How to Be a Gentleman or Gentlewoman

In his book The Idea of a University Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman defined a gentleman as “one who never inflicts pain.”  (Of course, this also holds true for a gentlewoman.)  I was going to write about what this means, but in checking to see if I remembered his words correctly, I discovered that this holy man already had unpacked the definition. To paraphrase some of his thoughts:  A gentle person prevents others from being embarrassed. He or she avoids upsetting people by clashing with their ideas or causing them to feel restrained, suspected, sad, or resentful. The gentle person tries to put everyone at ease and feel at home.  This means approaching others in a way attuned to their personality: being tender to the shy, gentle to the distant, and merciful to the foolish. 

A gentle person avoids touchy subjects that may irritate others, does not hog the limelight in conversations or bore others. When a gentle person does a favor, he or she makes the others feel as though they were doing the favor.  A gentleman/woman avoids speaking about self, making cutting remarks, or reading motives into others’ actions. Rather, he or she puts the best interpretation on actions. In arguments a gentle person is not mean or little and doesn’t take unfair advantage. A gentle person even treats enemies as though someday they may be friends. He or she is too smart to be hurt by insults and too busy to remember injuries.

I couldn’t say it better myself!

Jesus told us, “Learn of me, for I am meek and gentle of heart.” Newman has given us a detailed pen picture of what a gentle person looks like. Actually it is a picture of a Christian, a holy person. Newman’s words make a good checklist for a daily examination of conscience.

When have you been in the presence of a true gentleman or gentlewoman? What did he or she do?




1 Comment

  1. Betty Nagel on October 24, 2012 at 9:15 am

    Thank you for this great post. It’s how I want to live but where I so often fall short. I will print out this message from Cardinal Newman and take it to prayer. Thanks for the idea of using this as an examen.

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