In this season of graduation speeches, I thought it would be good to revisit three important words which we rarely hear in public use, and whose original meanings are therefore fast disappearing.
I will start with tolerance, defined as a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, beliefs, practices, racial or ethnic origins, etc., differ from one’s own. Notice that tolerance requires me to give others the right to believe and to say what they want, though I am not required to agree that their beliefs or statements are equal to those which I hold.
It is the current trend to a forced, false equality between beliefs which is changing the meaning of tolerance. For example, the Founding Fathers defended the right of Muslims to practice their faith in America, while never, as researched in Dave Miller’s article in the Apologetics Press, equating Islam to Christianity for the latter’s key importance in founding, and its principles for guiding, this nation. And it is OK if you and I believe the same.
Tolerating an idea, belief or statement does not mean that you think it is necessarily equal in value, truth or importance to the ideas and beliefs that you hold. Tolerance, when correctly understood, is a virtue, holding us together in civility as we exchange ideas. When improperly applied, particularly by a government or a mob, it tries to force an equality which is neither wanted nor warranted.
Keep the true meaning of tolerance in mind as I bring up two more words fast going out of use. You may not agree with me, but please tolerate my thoughts.
Modesty, defined as a behavior, manner, or appearance intended to avoid impropriety or indecency, and also as a synonym for humility. I fully understand that modesty is culturally and situationally defined. And that in general, women cannot be held accountable for the thoughts or actions of men.
But whatever the given cultural starting point, doesn’t it feel right today that as parents we ought to encourage more modesty in the dress and behavior of our daughters and sons? Might not a little more modesty slow down, at least in our own children, the current tsunami of sexting, hooking up, date rape, me-centered behavior, and selfie-selfie-selfie?
I am reminded of our son’s High School Prom Night many years ago. The class was divided into groups of about ten couples each to meet at different homes for pictures and send-offs. I was stunned to see how these seventeen and eighteen year old young women were dressed and made up, in the presence of their parents. The visible décolletage was incredible. I understand that in general women are not responsible for the behavior of men, but I wanted to pull some of the fathers aside and say, “If your daughter looks like that to me, what do you think her message is to an eighteen year old male who is likely to consume some contraband alcohol?”
I also remember remarking to my wife that night that the most beautiful young woman in attendance wore a classic dress right up to her neck, with a small amount of make-up. She radiated feminine beauty, strength and assurance.
When was the last time we used the word modesty in a conversation? Try it out. Exercise it. Employ it.
Chivalry, which emphasizes bravery, military skill, generosity in victory, piety, and courtesy to women, to also include courage, honor, justice, and a readiness to help the weak. Chivalry rejects passivity.
How many men, particularly young ones, would be better brothers, sons, friends, dates, boyfriends, husbands, fathers and citizens if these virtues were again honored, taught and practiced by fathers, teachers and mentors?
I am neither a psychologist nor sociologist, and I don’t have an expensive study to back up what I am about to write, so be tolerant: after nearly seventy years of observing this world, in personal relationships (not including the workplace or professional associations) when men practice these virtues and encourage other men to do so, the world is better for both men and women.
If you are a die-hard feminist or a confused male and want to brand me as a sexist for advocating a return to these virtues, please read Emily Smith’s excellent article in The Atlantic, “Let’s Give Chivalry Another Chance.” Here are two paragraphs from her article:
Historically, the chivalry ideal and the practices that it gave rise to were never about putting women down, as … feminists argue. Chivalry, as a social idea, was about respecting and aggrandizing women, and recognizing that their attention was worth seeking, competing for, and holding. If there is a victim of “benevolent sexism,” it is not the career-oriented single college-aged feminist. Rather, it is unconstrained masculinity.
Chivalry arose as a response to the violence and barbarism of the Middle Ages. It cautioned men to temper their aggression, deploying it only in appropriate circumstances—like to protect the physically weak and defenseless members of society. As the author and self-described “equity feminist” Christina Hoff Sommers tells me in an interview, “Masculinity with morality and civility is a very powerful force for good. But masculinity without these virtues is dangerous—even lethal.”
Lest you think that chivalry was invented by Southern generals, I believe that chivalry is a natural desire of most men, a desire which can be encouraged or destroyed by use or neglect. And I believe that most women naturally respond positively to a man practicing these virtues.
On the male side, I have an African-American friend in his forties who is in charge of security at an overnight shelter for a large number of women and children. You really don’t want to show up in the middle of the night and try to find your girlfriend—it will not go well. My friend grew up in a household of children all sired by different men. When he was about thirteen, he had an older sister and two younger brothers, the youngest of whom was the son of the man currently sleeping with his mother. This man physically abused him and the other brother, and sexually abused his sister. My friend wanted to protect his mother and sister, but was powerless to do so because he was so young. He finally turned to the slightly older boys on the corner who had guns to stop the man from abusing his sister and brother. This then set up my friend for a life of crime and violence which only ended when he prayed to accept Christ. What now motivates him through the long, cold nights of security at the Shelter? He will tell you with tears in his eyes, “I couldn’t protect my mother or my sister, but these women I will protect!”
On the female side, with much less drama, we were recently at a small dinner party with two other couples in a northern state. Both of the other women are accomplished and broadly acclaimed in their chosen, very competitive fields. As we were gathering at the table, without thinking I pulled out the chair to seat our hostess; she sat as I pushed her chair in. A moment later she jumped up because she had forgotten something. She turned to me with a giant smile on her face and said, “That’s the first time in over twenty years that a man has seated me.” Fearing that I had done something wrong in her world, I started to apologize. “Oh no,” she laughed, “I loved it. Thank you!”
Again, neither of the above examples makes a study. I really don’t care. They are just anecdotal examples that if a certain behavior makes most of us naturally happier, safer, and/or more cared for, then why not do more of it?
I want to end with asking from where came the concepts of tolerance, modesty and chivalry? From Darwinian Evolution? Progressive secularism? Islam?
I think many of the roots for these transformational virtues are found as the Fruit of the Spirit in the fifth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, describing the result of asking the Holy Spirit to rule one’s life:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
These three words and their implied actions are a small subset of what I mean when I state that it was Christian principles to which our Founders turned when writing our laws and imagining the path for our future.
We would all do well to employ these words more in conversation in the public square, and to encourage those around us, particularly our children, to embrace their virtues.