A GENTLEMAN

When my wife and I were going to do some shopping this morning, I helped her with her coat before we left. That kind of courtesy is quite normal in our family and, I think, it has been practiced by me for more than forty years already, but still my wife recognized it with a smile saying, “Thanks, you’re a real gentleman.” Interestingly, I heard almost the same phrase long ago when, together with a few other educationalists, I arrived in the U.S.A. on a teachers’ exchange, and we were met by a representative of our hosting organization. The representative was a little slim lady who, for some reason, had come to meet us carrying a huge and, as I understood, rather heavy suitcase. Almost instinctively, I offered her my help. The woman looked at me with surprise and said, before giving me the suitcase, “Thank you. You, Europeans, are real gentlemen.”

A special research has probably to be taken into how gentilhomme in early Britain rose to embody the chivalry and generosity in society (old-fashioned concepts nowadays, I think), but I know that Confucianism held similar ideas of what the gentleman was in Europe. The Chinese word “junzi” meant “the son of a ruler” who was to act as a moral guide to other people and had to cultivate humaneness. Later the word developed the meaning of “exemplary person”, “perfect man.”

Whatever it could be, from the time when I was a child and until much later, my mother used to say to me all the time: “If you see that a girl finds it difficult to do something, you have to come up and help her.” It was strange, since in those days my Mom didn’t know anything about the existence of the English gentlemen or the Chinese junzis.

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