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The Woke and the Knightly: Navigating Modern Perceptions of Chivalry

March 21, 2023

Can you relate to this?

You took part in a dramatic and interesting but chaotic scenario while on one of your vacations. The only thing the experience did was leave you wondering if something similar could occur in your own country.

Let's say you had just returned from a tour of the capital city's zoo and you were at the train station. You took in the sights and sounds of the diverse crowd as you passed through the crowded train station. You noticed the station had people of diverse ethnicities represented. Passengers from various parts of the world bustled around, lugging bags. Almost everyone was welcoming or bidding farewell to loved ones in different languages.

You could tell Christmas was going to be fun for most of these people.

Most noticeable was a group of young students huddled together on a bench, chatting.  A brunette in the mix stood out the most. Meanwhile, an elderly couple was making their way toward the platform, their luggage dragging behind them as they held on to each other. As you watched them, you couldn't help but feel a sense of nostalgia for the days ahead of you and your darling wife. It was a moment of calm in the chaos, and you savored every bit of the moment as you headed home. You knew you'd be “smothered” by your son, who would not give you any time off as soon as you stepped into the house.

You knew the train would leave at any moment, leaving you alone for a peaceful walk along the tracks.

You had checked your phone for notifications, and instead of putting it back in your pocket, you hesitated. Who knows? You might get lucky and come across a beautiful moment to capture. It was time for the train to leave. You heard the whistles going off in succession and people hurrying into their coaches. As the train's engine came to life, its sound echoed off the walls of the station. You moved farther from the platform to avoid anyone running into you as they boarded at the last minute. You noticed family members taking a step back as they said their final goodbyes to loved ones. As you expected, more people rushed to catch their trains. While you were observing the events, you hoped you'd catch a moment to photograph. Amid the chaos, you observed a lone figure running parallel to the edge of the platform.

It was a woman with long, flowing hair that whipped behind her in the gusts of wind. She dressed in a sleek, black overcoat, dragging her luggage in one hand and clutching her flowing gown beneath the coat with the other hand. Her gaze was on the departing train, which was beginning to pull out of the station. Racing towards the train, her shoes clacking against the concrete as she moved. This was accompanied by the rhythm of her luggage wheel dragging behind her. She was trying to catch the first-class coach, but the harder she tried, the more it seemed like she wasn’t going to make it. Within you, you knew that if you were in her shoes, you’d have caught up with the coach in no time. 

But, while you were thinking, you noticed her shoes were those delicate stilettos. So you shook your head and moved on. On one hand, you cheered for her, hoping she’d catch up, while on the other, you were, interested in seeing how it ends.

You had moved closer to your favorite brunette group while this was going on. The three young ladies huddled together on a bench. Their voices rose and fell as they discussed with excitement, a rally they had attended. Dressed in beautiful style, with handmade buttons and patches on their jackets and backpacks. Your brunette friend who was the tallest of the group, gesticulated and smiled as she spoke. The redhead girl next to her nodded in agreement, her curls bouncing as she spoke. The third girl, a blonde with a sleek ponytail, listened and once in a while, interjected with her comment.

They sounded like feminists as they spoke; their passion and energy were contagious, and their voices were… 

Oh my, I digress. LOL.

The train was now gaining speed, and more people were becoming aware of what was going on. People in their seats were straightening up to get a better view of what was going on.

The Brunette, the nose ring girl, could be heard saying:

"That lady is missing the train; her shoes won't let her," she said, and almost immediately added, "The shoes, remove the shoes."

For a brief moment, the train lady was no longer the center of attention. Okay, we're exaggerating, but when your voice drowns out the noise of a departing train, you'd definitely turn heads.

The train picked up the pace, the coach doors were now closing. The lady, now panting as she ran along the departing train, clutched her suitcase in her hand as she dragged her luggage with the other.

The coach conductors, leaned out their windows, waving their arms and shouting encouragement.

"Miss, hurry!”

“You can do it!" One of them yelled.

Okay, you made it up; you couldn't understand a word they said because it was in Arabic, but their gestures couldn't have meant anything else.

The lady increased her efforts, her legs pumping in an attempt to keep up with the train. A few feet away, she could see the open door of another coach, which was now her only chance. But she did not realize it. She wanted what she paid for, that first-class coach. 

“Women!” you thought to yourself.

As the lady sprinted alongside the train, she could see the open door of the coach only a few feet away. She was so close, but the train was moving too fast. She was about to give up, her pace was slowing down. As she was about to give up, someone ran towards her from the opposite direction. She realized it was one of the station officers. What do they call them?

He was a tall, muscular man with a no-nonsense expression. He grabbed her arm and began to run alongside her, his long strides eating up the distance between them and the coach. For a moment, you observed the whole station watching what was going on. Now she was more encouraged, and you could swear it was a Superwoman movie moment. She pulled her luggage off the floor, struggling with the weight of her luggage as it bounced against her leg as she ran. They were only a few feet from the open door when the train gave a final whistle and began to increase speed. With a burst of energy, she lunged towards the door, her hand outstretched. She managed to get a grip on the edge of the door, her fingers bumping into the metal as she tried to pull herself aboard.

The train was moving too fast, and she could feel herself slipping. She gritted her teeth and hung on, her feet dangling above the tracks as she tried to wriggle her way through the small gap in the door. When she thought she was going to lose her grip, she felt hands on her waist, and the station officer, who was right behind her, kept her steady.

He shouted out to her, and you imagined he said "Not today, miss!".

He struggled to keep his balance too, with one hand on her waist, and the other on the guard rail. At that moment, as he encouraged her to keep calm, and was also almost falling, he blurted out what you believed must have been him saying:

"I’m almost killing myself here, but I will make sure you don’t fall and break your neck, miss, not today."

Because almost as if on cue, the lady nodded and steadied herself.

As she caught on, the door was almost shutting her out, but the coach conductor pushed the door back, reached for her, and helped her get in. As the train was now getting farther away from you, you could see her trying to gain her balance. As she got to the door, trying to show her gratitude to the station office at the same time. With her luggage dragged in behind her, she looked back to see the officer. He had stopped running on the platform as the door finally shuts, a look of fulfillment on his face. He waved at her as the train began to pull away, and the lady waved back, her heart filled with gratitude. She knew she couldn't have made it without his help. As the train pulled into the empty tracks, disappearing into the distance, the station officer turned and walked back towards his post.

His head held high. He had done his job, you could see the fulfillment as he knew he had made a difference.

You felt the entire station had shared a proud moment. Now everyone that had noticed the incident applauded and praised the station officer. Some cheered while others nodded and went back to their lives. Brunette and her friends, now, were on their feet. For a moment, you thought they were going to criticize the officer for holding the lady’s waist.  You thought you noticed her displeasure, but you were not sure. You shrugged and moved on wondering if this could happen back at home.

So many ‘what ifs’.

Okay, story over. Here is my dilemma though. In my country, the officer helping the lady regain balance, by holding her waist will receive criticism from some societies. Let us assume that we recorded the incident and shared it on social media. We can be sure it will generate unwanted discussions.

The media will likely label it:

"Discrimination and sexual harassment against women".

Many will overlook the entire event as an act of kindness towards a fellow human being, but focus on a single act or gesture.  Isolating it and weaponizing it as a form of disrespect towards women.

Agreed, it’s an issue of perspective, but then we will agree that issues are, misconstrued for hidden agendas of the parties and/or groups involved. I agree, it may be the same as beating a dead horse, bringing up these chivalry discussions again. Yet, in a time like this, where “political correctness” trumps logic and rationalism, you can’t go wrong with the truth. I also admit, some would argue, that I seek to profit from the attention generated when discussing these controversies. I’d rather see this as exercising my right to freedom of expression.

That said, let's go back to the “what ifs”.

All we have to work with now are assumptions. I hope that we can all agree, at the end of this piece, that the ‘woke’ culture is eating away at the values that have upheld our existence. I have a few standing views I’d like to consider. These are the usual run-to-arguments when such incidents as in our story get propped up for controversies.

I will share my opinions on them.

The usual arguments are:

  • “While chivalry is a way of showing respect and protecting the weak, in modern times, it can be condescending and patriarchal. So, it is important for men to consider alternative ways of expressing kindness and respect towards women”
  • "The traditional concept of chivalry, which values women as passive and in need of protection, is old and harmful. Instead, men should strive to be allies and advocates for women's rights and equality".
  • "In a world that often devalues kindness and compassion, chivalry can be a valuable and important virtue. Yet, it is important for men to understand the importance of consent. Men need to be mindful of the power dynamics at play when expressing chivalry towards women."

First, can we agree that chivalry is not a one-way street that entails only men showing kindness to women? Another question the first opinion raises is whether there are different variants of kindness.

Also, what is respect?

Could there be different definitions of the same concepts based on who is making the definitions?

True, there are different ways of showing kindness. Yet, most times, these arguments do not define these as various ways of expressing kindness, but, rather as different meanings of the idea. You’d assume that there is a form of kindness that is only used when dealing with women and a different one for men.

Does it also mean that men do not need kindness? Do we assume that women who show men kindness are condescending to men? We can spin this in many ways to make the point, but the point remains that:

Kindness is Kindness.

In response to the second argument. Using ‘traditional’ in a way that suggests that women are ‘weak’, defeats the true meaning of the idea. This notion only serves to portray chivalry as an element of the patriarchal society.

"How dare it?"

Allow me to set this straight by stating that it was modern linguists that adopted a new meaning for the concept.

A look into history using Wikipedia. The term 'gallantry' means refined elegance. It describes the proper behavior of upper-class men toward upper-class women. This happened in the early-modern period. Note that the term used wasn't 'chivalry'. It was only in the 19th century that there were attempts to revitalize (and restore the true meaning of ) the concept of chivalry.

In his book, The Broad Stone of Honour, Kenelm Henry Digby defined chivalry as:

"the general spirit or state of mind that inspires men to perform heroic actions and keeps them aware of the beauty and grandeur of the intellectual and moral world".

He did this because he wanted the men of his generation to be kind and respectful (I've embedded a link if you’d like to read more).

For more context, allow me to summarize the page below:

  • Chivalry was a code of conduct followed by knights in the medieval period.
  • The code emphasized honor, courage, and service to others. Particularly women and the weak.
  • The commandments of chivalry included: defending the faith, protecting the weak and the helpless, and doing good deeds.
  • Chivalry originated in the 12th century and had links to the concept of feudalism.
  • The code of chivalry was later romanticized in literature and art. It became a central part of the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. A community that embodied and rewarded polite and gallant behavior.

It thus suggests that we recognize and agree that, even though women seem to be the only recipients of chivalry,  it extends to every member of society. To dispute this misleading interpretation of the concept, we present another perspective.

If we were using the “modern” criteria of weakness, a more important group that would be the only recipient of chivalry would be children.

I can then replace this “modern” meaning of chivalry with “courting.” Courting describes acts of kindness, dominance, and friendliness. A combination of theatrics that a male animal displays to find and impress a  (female) mate. It becomes quite easy now to understand very well, the views of many of the proponents of these opinions. Assume that they might have defined this concept to mean courting and not the true idea of chivalry.

A modern thesis supports the idea that chivalry should not limit to a gender or a group of people. The values of chivalry, such as honor, courage, and service to others, are universal values. These should apply to everybody, regardless of their gender. The concept should not mean that men be polite towards women only, but rather as a broader code of conduct that applies to everyone.

This new point of view suggests that limiting the application of chivalry to one gender is a narrow and outdated way to describe the idea. Instead, it should become a set of values guiding everyone in their relationships, regardless of their gender. True chivalry means kindness to everyone, anyone, and whoever needs kindness. It does not even ask if the receiver deserves it. You express kindness because you have the ability to give and there is a need for kindness.

For the third and last argument, the response is simple. There is no agenda behind chivalry.

On one hand, we agree that “courting theatrics” is often mistaken for chivalry. And this is sometimes used to reinforce harmful gender stereotypes and power dynamics. After all, it is a survival trait that supports the elimination of competition. On the other, it is without doubt that chivalry emphasizes important virtues like kindness and compassion. These values can be extremely valuable in a world that has previously lacked them. The values are honor, courage, and service to others. They encourage people to be more considerate and empathetic toward others. Helping us to create a more compassionate and fair society, after all,  we agree that we need fairness.

All in all, the concept of chivalry has evolved over time. We can also agree that the varying interpretations of the idea may be because of our views, experiences, or backgrounds. No matter what it means to different people, chivalry should remain true and genuine.

It is a limited perspective, seeing it as a way of showing kindness and respect to others, particularly women. Skeptical views think that it reinforces harmful gender stereotypes and dangerous power dynamics. It is very important to consider the perspectives of all parties involved. This will help us approach the concept in a way that promotes equality and respect for all people. Additionally, it is important to remember that there are different ways of expressing kindness. Yet, it is important to do this with respect, honor, equality, and fairness. These values remain the same and are not limited to specific genders or groups of people.

In the end, my experience at the train station reminded me of the importance of chivalry. It also reinforced my beliefs and opinions.  The acts of kindness expressed by the officers represent what our society needs. While the actions may seem insignificant, they represent the true values of chivalry. Values of kindness, respect, and consideration for others are at the heart of chivalry. In today's world, where these values are often overlooked, and first examined for their political correctness. It was heartening to remember that chivalry is not a thing of the past, but a living and relevant code of conduct. One that can make a positive difference in the world.

In conclusion, the article highlights the importance of understanding the nuances of chivalry in modern times. It argues that while society's perception of chivalry has changed, the act of showing kindness and compassion should not be lost in the pursuit of being politically correct. The article encourages readers to act with empathy and understanding, rather than fear of criticism.

In this article, we explore the delicate balance of chivalry in modern times. We discuss the challenges of navigating societal perceptions of the knightly virtue, particularly in the age of "wokeness". From the perspective of someone from a culture where a gesture like the one made by the station officer in the story may be considered sexual harassment, we delve into the nuances of consent and power dynamics in acts of kindness. We also examine how the current trend of "cancel culture" may be eroding traditional values and the importance of understanding the humanity behind actions. We make the case for the continued relevance and value of chivalry in today's world.


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