Editor’s Note: Elliot Rodger called himself the “ultimate gentleman,” driving a fancy car and wearing expensive sunglasses. But no woman had ever dated, kissed, or slept with the 22-year-old, which in his eyes justified a premeditated attack that left six people dead and 13 injured Friday. Instead of wasting any time or energy on the coward, I’ve decided to instead write to my newborn nephew about what being an “ultimate gentleman” actually means.
At the time of my writing this, you’re just over a month old and have brought nothing but joy to all who have met you. While we treasure your peaceful nature and absurdly tiny fingers, we also all look forward to the day we can talk to you, teach you, and learn from you. Dad will probably teach you how to fix things around the house, Mom will teach you basic first aid, and your aunts and uncles (myself included) will gladly teach you how to be a reasonable troublemaker.
Personally, I will make sure that you know exactly what it means to be a gentleman. For that, I’d ask you to ignore everything else on this website for a moment. It’s good to know how to pick a bottle of scotch. It helps to know how to talk about baseball. Knowing how to tie a bow tie can get you a college scholarship (true story). But to be a true gentleman, there’s really only one rule that you need to follow:
Treat everyone — men, women, and children — with more respect than other people say they deserve.
There are some lighter aspects to this rule, namely:
- When you walk through a doorway, don’t let it shut in the next pedestrian’s face.
- Stand up when you meet new people unless they are already seated.
- Arrive when you say you will arrive.
- Plan social gatherings.
- Refer to your elders by Mr., Mrs. or Miss until they say otherwise (and sometimes even then).
- Introduce nearby friends and acquaintances to people you just met.
- Shake hands.
- Occasionally, buy your friends/family members/coworkers a cup of coffee.
- Use your manners.
- Offer compliments.
- Do not gossip.
However, and this is perhaps the most important thing to remember as you get older: Be a gentleman because it’s the best way to go through life, not because you expect anything in return. There is no checklist of actions you can take before another person owes you his or her affection, and to expect otherwise is to throw out all of your previous good intentions. You do not, under any circumstance, have the right to another person.
During the first slow dance at my first high school mixer, I walked up to the prettiest girl who wasn’t dancing with someone and asked her to dance. She said, “I have a boyfriend,” and walked away giggling. At first, I was baffled. I had worn my best sport coat and tie, and I had presented a very reasonable request in a polite manner (besides, I was quite sure she was lying about the boyfriend). I was a stupid, 14-year-old boy, but even then I knew that her brusque decline was her right.
By the time you’re able to read this, you’ll have heard this: “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” I say, “Treat others the way you want your mother/sister/daughter to be treated.”
Every friendship and relationship I’ve ever had developed not from that which I owned, drove, or wore, but how I treated others. Do the same, and perhaps you’ll face rejection from time to time (especially in those high school years), but the relationships that last will be built on a solid foundation of trust and appreciation. You’ll have friendships that are measured in decades and relationships bursting with love. You’ll give without expectation, but you’ll be rewarded by people who try to do the same.
And that, dear nephew, is how you’ll become the ultimate gentleman.