I have lost count of the amount of times I have been asked by newspapers, magazines and radio presenters to list the key attributes of a gentleman. Usually it is also then couched in what lessons am I teaching my two boys to ensure they grow up to be gentlemen.
In previous posts and conversations I have thrown up a range of lists of these attributes from both historical and contemporary figures. Some of these lists are more extensive than others and some probably more restrictive than others. A funny thing has happened to me though, as the definition crystalises in my own mind – the list of attributes hasn’t gotten bigger, it has shrunk to one attribute.
Living with Empathy
You see, to me, being a gentleman (or gentleperson) is not defined by your successful demonstration of a list of desirable behaviours, it is about your core belief systems and how you approach the world and others in it.
Everything we speak about when defining the true gentleman is directly related to the core of empathy. The ability to understand the perspectives and emotions of others, and to view them as important as your own dictates appropriate behaviour.
Think for a minute of the opposite of approaching the world with empathy. It would involve people going around their day-to-day lives completely wrapped up in themselves, ignoring the plight of others, seeking personal advantage and profit to the exclusion of all else, taking no personal responsibility for the society in which they live.
So now, when I am asked what attributes make a gentleman, or what is the most important aspect I am encouraging with my boys, I simply say empathy.