Is chivalry dead? I think a lot of people would be willing to believe it is. It seems that whenever Chivalry is brought up in any context it is all about instructions like, “don’t hit girls,” and, “hold the door for Ladies.” So I think the first question we have to ask is whether or not we, in a modern context, understand exactly what Chivalry is. Is Chivalry just a matter of not hitting women but holding the door for them instead? Actually yes, I would argue that’s about as complicated as it has to be. Sit tight and I’ll explain. First though a little history lesson for you all.
The knightly code called Chivalry arose sometime around the 12th century. Originally used as a kind of military rule book, it eventually evolved into a moral code of ethics for all nobility in Europe. I once heard someone say that the samurai equivalent of Bushido was a code designed so everyone knew who was allowed to beat up on who. I’m not saying it is, but the parallels to chivalry are interesting. I believe that one leading theory is that Chivalry was invented in part by medieval poets, but for myself I doubt that it would have taken off like it did if Chivalry didn’t fulfill some need of the time. You see, the nobles of the time were a pack of trained fighters. With so much martial training from so young an age, fighting was a way of life. Part of the reason behind some of the Crusades were to get the violent types as far away from home as possible. Chivalry was another control mechanism. By creating a codified way of telling who to fight and for what reason, Chivalry helped prevent random and potentially damaging conflicts. Not a bad goal for a code of conduct.
Switching to the present day, it’s not really appropriate to have a code to regulate fighting (although, in the right circumstances it could be) so we’ll look to other aspects of Chivalry to see how it can be relevant today. The highly romanticized version of Chivalry is all about protecting those unable to protect themselves. While this was a part of the Chivalric code, it was less emphasized than you may imagine. This is where “don’t hit girls” comes into play, though that term on its own is misogynistic and entirely obsolete. Rather, let us say, don’t take advantage of others either physically or otherwise. Conflict is only acceptable when the other party is able to defend themselves equally. If one is unable to adequately defend themselves it is a mark of strength for others to step in to keep them from harm. There are far too many that have crossed paths with me that would happily abandon those they see as weak simply because of some misguided feeling that a person has no worth if they can’t be entirely independent.
As to holding open doors, well don’t just do it for ladies, but for everyone it makes sense to do it for. It costs you next to nothing, after all and may just brighten someone’s day. I have heard some (mostly men, mostly with somewhat sexist undertones) suggest that women don’t want doors held and may even be actively offended. I’m not convinced of the truth of this, as the worst that’s happened when I’ve held the door is I’ve been ignored. Not a huge deal in my mind. A good way to think about it in general terms is, “help if you can.” If you can assist someone in a small way with little cost to yourself, then there is no reason not to.
So, Chivalry, is it dead? Perhaps. I think if it is, then a big part of the reason why is that we as a culture don’t teach it. It is well and good to have a personal code of ethics, but a formal one is better. Something clear and preferably written down, that can be consulted in times of trial. I think that many would benefit from this. I think society would benefit from this. As a culture, it seems to me that we lack a set of codes that are separate from laws to govern the “noble” way to act. In theory I suppose the rules of etiquette could apply, but these are no longer really taught. So teach your children to be helpful and to stand up for those that need it. Make Knights of us all.