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Author Topic: Ferocity, meekness, and chivalry in the modern world.  (Read 16369 times)

Das Bill

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This is something that's been bouncing around in my head a lot lately, and this forum seems like the appropriate place to post it, given the theme.

Has anyone here ever read "The Necessity of Chivalry" by C.S. Lewis? I read it a long time ago, but the gist of it was the need for the Lancelot in the modern world.  The essay discusses those who can go into the field and be ferocious, but cannot turn that ferocity off anywhere else. On the flip side are those who are meek in their daily life, and remains so on the field. The Lancelot is the one who is ferocious on the field, but "meek" in the hall. He is the hero, the chivalrous. In other words, the man who can stand up for himself, and can live his life boldly, and at the same time be at peace with the world. (and of course, when I say "man", I'm talking about "mankind", not the gender) I recall there being a thread on myArmoury on this essay a couple years ago, in fact.

In many cases, it sounds cliche, and even corny. But this has very much summed up my philosophy on how to live one's life, or at least it has been over the past several years. One of the points that Lewis made in his essay was that the traits are not purely innate; they are trained. If you train a society to be ferocious, this is dangerous because you train them to be aggressive without compassion. But likewise, if you train a society to remain meek, this is also dangerous, because you train them to turn the cheek until there are no cheeks left to turn. You train them to hurt themselves by allowing others to hurt them. It is only by learning to take control of one's own life, to seize it and take charge, that you can guide your own fate. And it is only by tempering this with compassion and empathy that you can take that control and make it into something worth living for.

Why has this been on my mind lately? I've been teaching at VAF for seven years now, come May. (Good lord, has it been so long?) In that time I've taught a lot of people, and roughly 50% of those people have been children. Some of them have even stuck around long enough that I've seen them grow up quite a bit. Some of those kids come into my beginning class as meek: They are afraid of sticking out. They are afraid of people seeing them. They are afraid to say what is on their mind. They do what other kids tell them, even if the know they shouldn't. Likewise, there are other kids who are ferocious: They know what they want, and don't like it when they don't get it. They'll cheat at fencing if they think they can get away with it. You tell them not to do something, and they'll do it the second they think you aren't looking. They'll make fun of other kids to look big if they think no adults can hear them. And in the seven years I've been teaching, I've seen a huge number of them change. In my case, it was the act of taking fencing/historical swordsmanship that forced them into the position where they had to compromise with other people, but it could have just as easily been any other activity. But the activity alone isn't what makes the change: It's the guidance the kids get. I meet parents all the time who either 1) Let their kids get away with murder, or 2) Put the fear of god into their kids at any chance. And unfortunately many of these parents don't understand why their kids don't "get it". It's because they don't yet know any better. I can only hope that I can make a positive influence on these kids by showing them that, no, they can't get whatever they want, but yes, they do have to be responsible for themselves. They can't just stand around hoping partners will come to pick them for fencing: they have to go get their own partner themselves. At the same time, they can't tell other kids what to do, they have to treat other human beings like other human beings. And sometimes the really amazing thing is that I don't really have to do that much... the kids start doing it on their own. They start being the Lancelots, and what's even more, they start encouraging their peers to be this way. It's sometimes amazing.

And it was only recently that I started seeing this as a form of modern chivalry. I think when I started getting into my teens that I stopped using words like "chivalry" because I felt it couldn't exist in modern times as it did in previous eras, that its concept was designed for a time period that had different ideals. Many of the ideals of chivalry, in fact, go contrary to modern sensibilities. But the truth is, we don't have to live chivalry by other standards: We have to live it by our own standards, just as we do with everything in our lives. And in that respect, "modern chivalry" really is something that we need today, otherwise we are nothing but lambs and lions, shadows and bursts.

Anyway, that's my little "morning musing". I hope I don't just sound like someone complaining about parenting, because that would mean I'm getting old. :)
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Re: Ferocity, meekness, and chivalry in the modern world.
« Reply #1 on: 2008-04-04, 13:41:39 »
Hi Bill, I hope you don’t mind if I add some ramblings of my own.

First of all, you do a marvelous job teaching adults as well.  Look what you did for me!

Here’s the thread on myArmoury:
http://www.myarmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=5419 
I made some comments there when the thread was still active.

This is something I’ve thought a great deal about myself.  It’s no coincidence that my favorite song is the JimSteinman/Dean Pitchford song “Holding Out for a Hero”.  I use pieces of it as my signature here and on myArmoury.

As you know, our family is heavily involved with the Boy Scouts.  It’s a fantastic program and I think it is also striving to teach boys those same ideals. 

Boy Scout Law:  “A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.” 

Boy Scout Slogan:  “Do a good turn daily.”

Our troop is a boy lead troop.  This means that the boys plan the meetings and outings.  The patrol leaders are responsible not just for organizing their patrol, but also the discipline of the patrol.  On occasions it is necessary for an adult to step in, but it’s usually the patrol leader that gets the boys settled down to pay attention, stop a bullying situation, etc.  Leadership positions change every 6 months to make sure that every scout has a position of leadership at some time.  (A leadership position is also a requirement for advancement in ranks.)  I think all this is real life leadership training.   

On a very personal note, my father is a perfect example of what it means to be chivalrous in the modern world.  I don’t think he would use that term, he simply does what he thinks is right.  What’s even more admirable is that he was raised in a family that puts the fun in dysfunctional.  He pulled himself up by his own bootstraps, made a success of himself and his marriage and family. 

I think the age we are in now is hard for both men and women.  Our traditional roles have been devalued.  As such, it’s much easier to develop a me first type of attitude. 

I have many many more thoughts on this subject, but I’ll stop for now.
"Where have all the good men gone and where are all the gods?
Where's the street wise Hercules to fight the rising odds?"
~Steinman/Pitchford

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Re: Ferocity, meekness, and chivalry in the modern world.
« Reply #2 on: 2008-04-04, 15:41:09 »
Unfortunately I have not read that essay (I'd like to, is there a compilation that it was a part of? I think CS Lewis is available in Project Gutenberg online), but I see precisely what you're talking about. While modern sensibilities, cultural ideals, reasons, necessities, and goals have changed over the centuries, I think there's just as strong of a need today.

It's interesting what you've observed with the children in your classes. At times I feel I could easily lose confidence in humanity (especially reading comments left for youtube videos!!), but in reality, we're all instinctively good at self-regulating (individually and as a group) with or without exterior influence. Kids will create their own rules and sense of fair play. But this in no way negates the need for a source of good guidance, especially in the presence of very poor guidance. Kids are exposed to maladaptive influences all the time. So I agree with what you paraphrased from Lewis, that such imbalances generally have to be trained into people. I think it happens more often than not due to cultural misunderstanding of these dangers, or from people acting more towards their own self interests. (EDIT: I revised what I said in this paragraph in another post below)

But getting back to the modern application of chivalry, you're right that much has changed in the intervening centuries. I remember reading a discussion on another forum talking about historical examples, such as a knight who had found a young couple who decided to leave home and elope, crossing paths with them along the road (something along the lines of the noble's daughter leaving with the steward). The knight took their money and sent them on their way, and then spent it all on ale and food for his friends and other knights, and this was considered a positive chivalrous response. He showed compassion by not forcing them to return home, and yet upheld his honorable duty to deprive them of the funds that they were using to commit this wrong-doing, and showed generosity or largesse by treating his peers. Our modern sensibilities tend to be offended by this. I don't remember what period book/author this story was from. I don't think it was Geffroi de Charney since I've read some of his work already.

So while the cultural climate has definitely changed, and thus our interpretations of chivalry must also change, it doesn't reduce the value of maintaining our ideals.

The point you brought up about being meek or ferocious in the appropriate setting is very interesting, and is how I've always looked at things... Finding the right balance, acting decisively and yet appropriately. I was reading another discussion on another forum a while back discussing a scene in an old foreign film ("The Grand Illusion", French, black and white), and while it was set in World War I, it had some interesting chivalric aspects depicted within the film. I ended up renting it to see for myself. One of the lead characters, a French officer being held captive by the Germans, makes a comment along the lines of "when one is on a golf course, one plays golf. When one is held captive, one tries to escape." He doesn't expect to make it out alive, he's more concerned for his comrades, and he's making a statement about appropriate responses, and what is honorable or even expected of you.

One thing I find interesting-- you said you stopped using the term Chivalry long ago. In my case it was the other way around. I started following a path of my own ideals at an early age, and didn't even realize (except on a subconscious level maybe) that what I was seeking was chivalry. I didn't equate the word with what I was doing until only a few years ago.

Good topic!
« Last Edit: 2008-04-14, 18:49:57 by Sir Edward »
Sir Ed T. Toton III
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Das Bill

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Re: Ferocity, meekness, and chivalry in the modern world.
« Reply #3 on: 2008-04-04, 16:56:01 »
So while the cultural climate has definitely changed, and thus our interpretations of chivalry must also change, it doesn't reduce the value of maintaining our ideals.

Yes! That sums up my feelings exactly.

Quote
One thing I find interesting-- you said you stopped using the term Chivalry long ago.

Oh, I should clarify: When I was a kid, I was very obsessed with the idea of chivalry, knighthood and honor. When I became a teenager and into my young adult years, I sort of let those terms slide out of my lexicon out of a sense of letting go of my previous "romantic" (i.e. childish) notions. In more recent years I've come to embrace them again, though perhaps in a more mature way.
"A despondent heart will always be defeated, regardless of skill." -Master Sigmund Ringeck

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Re: Ferocity, meekness, and chivalry in the modern world.
« Reply #4 on: 2008-04-04, 17:23:54 »
Oh, I should clarify: When I was a kid, I was very obsessed with the idea of chivalry, knighthood and honor. When I became a teenager and into my young adult years, I sort of let those terms slide out of my lexicon out of a sense of letting go of my previous "romantic" (i.e. childish) notions. In more recent years I've come to embrace them again, though perhaps in a more mature way.

Cool, that's basically what I thought you meant. :)
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Re: Ferocity, meekness, and chivalry in the modern world.
« Reply #5 on: 2008-04-07, 19:43:29 »
It's interesting what you've observed with the children in your classes. At times I feel I could easily lose confidence in humanity (especially reading comments left for youtube videos!!), but in reality, we're all instinctively good at self-regulating (individually and as a group) with or without exterior influence. Kids will create their own rules and sense of fair play. But this in no way negates the need for a source of good guidance, especially in the presence of very poor guidance. Kids are exposed to maladaptive influences all the time. So I agree with what you paraphrased from Lewis, that such imbalances generally have to be trained into people. I think it happens more often than not due to cultural misunderstanding of these dangers, or from people acting more towards their own self interests.

Part of me is kicking myself for writing this, at least the way I worded some of it. I hate falling into generalizations.

I think humans in general, while instinctively good at self-regulating and cooperating, also instinctively put themselves first. Proper guidance can help bring about a balance between opposing forces-- what's good for the self, or what's good for the group as a whole. And sometimes, doing what's right can also be selfishly motivated (to get a good reputation, for instance). So I don't think poor behavior is always learned externally, just as good behavior isn't always either. Growth comes from a variety of factors, external guidance being one, and personal experience being another.

But since I'm more of an armchair philosopher, rather than a psychiatrist, maybe I should stop here. :)

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Re: Ferocity, meekness, and chivalry in the modern world.
« Reply #6 on: 2008-04-07, 20:09:07 »
Please forgive me.  Random babbling  ahead.  And, no, I don't really know what I'm talking about.  Okay, you've been warned...

Ed's comments remind me of the social dilemmas common in game theory.  Where it makes sense for an individual to act in his own self interests, however, when the majority act that way then everyone loses.

Many religions teach that one receives a personal benefit for acting for the greater good.  If you are a good person, you'll go to heaven.  Perhaps theologists are experts in game theory.

I think it must be very difficult to be a man in our present culture.  Men's roles have gone through as much upheaval as women's, but being men, they aren't allowed to talk about it.  :)  Their roles as breadwinner, head of the family and protector have all been diminished by political correctness.  What does that leave?

I'm terribly politically INcorrect.  And I have a hero fixation.  I never understood the appeal of the "bad boy."  I much prefer the knight in shining armour. 

One last babble for now, addressing what Bill has noticed in his classes.  It's a quote (though I don't remember who said it) "A hundred years from now, it won't matter how much money I made, what kind of car I drove or how big my house was.  But the world will be different because I was important in the life of a child."
"Where have all the good men gone and where are all the gods?
Where's the street wise Hercules to fight the rising odds?"
~Steinman/Pitchford

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Re: Ferocity, meekness, and chivalry in the modern world.
« Reply #7 on: 2008-04-07, 20:21:41 »

I agree with everything you just said. :)

It's interesting though that there are other theories tied into game theory. For instance, it has often traditionally been held that in a capitalist economy, everyone acting in their own best interest builds a stronger economy, thus benefiting everyone. But there's far more to it in game theory. It was amusing in the movie "A Beautiful Mind" seeing how this was being applied to "getting the girl". :)

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Re: Ferocity, meekness, and chivalry in the modern world.
« Reply #8 on: 2008-04-09, 13:35:56 »
There is a silly off topic thread on myArmoury that has a squirrel in armour and it reminded me of the Redwall books by Brian Jacques.  The target audience is 9-13 years old, but they are fun books for grown-ups too.  :)  On the surface, they are simply exciting little adventure books, but if you really examine them for what they are teaching kids there are some wonderful lessons on chivalry and what it means to be a heroic person.  His characters also deal with those issues of handling ferocity and meekness.  The badgers are likely to be berserkers in battle and the mice must learn to be ferocious.

One of my favorite themes is how he treats the female characters in his books.  He has female warriors such as Jess the Squirrel, an archer, and he has those that have more traditional roles as caregivers.  It’s the more traditional female characters that resonate with me for rather obvious reasons.  What’s nice about his approach is that they are strong, important and heroic characters.  You don’t have to be a warrior to be a hero (or heroine).  Those that stay home and mind the abbey are as tough as those that go out to fight.

Even if you never read the books, if you ever get the opportunity to hear Brian Jacques speak you should take advantage of it.  He's a very entertaining and humorous speaker.  He also talks about chivalric attitudes and what it means to be brave.  He also says his books “are all about good vs. evil.  And, just like in real life, good always wins.”  That’s something we should all strive to believe.

While I’m babbling on about fictional characters, does anyone else remember Billy Jack?  (“I’m going to take my right foot and hit you on your right cheek and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.”  Wicked cool.  Sort of like Christian’s Scheitelhau to Bill’s head at WMAW.)  Billy Jack is a character who has had a personal struggle with his own ferocity.  Keeping it in check causes other characters to misinterpret that as meekness.  It’s when he gives in to it, though with good cause, that brings his downfall.

Yes, the creatures of Redwall and Billy Jack are fictional characters.  However Brian Jacques and Tom Laughlin deliberately created these characters and stories for the purpose of teaching moral lessons.  Isn’t it interesting that they had financial success doing so?  The Redwall books are a huge success and even spawned a short lived television show on PBS.  At the time of its release, Billy Jack was the most successful independent film ever made.
"Where have all the good men gone and where are all the gods?
Where's the street wise Hercules to fight the rising odds?"
~Steinman/Pitchford

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Re: Ferocity, meekness, and chivalry in the modern world.
« Reply #9 on: 2008-04-09, 14:05:42 »
"I just go BERSERK!"

Ah, Billy Jack. My life must've come some strange full-circle to find my name in the same paragraph as his! ;) That's definitely one of those movies that has its own crazy-cool to it - kinda like Adam West, speaking of conversations coming full circle...

It's rather amazing that Laughlin did the far more meaningful "Billy Jack" after the blatant "bikers go on a gang rape spree" exploitation film that introduced the Billy Jack character, "The Born Losers".

I haven't read the Redwall books, but have seen a handful of the animated versions. Those are great...sort of like Disney's Robin Hood, but more serious and without the cheeze factor.

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Re: Ferocity, meekness, and chivalry in the modern world.
« Reply #10 on: 2008-04-09, 19:17:26 »
"I just go BERSERK!"

Ah, Billy Jack. My life must've come some strange full-circle to find my name in the same paragraph as his! ;) That's definitely one of those movies that has its own crazy-cool to it - kinda like Adam West, speaking of conversations coming full circle...


I should have guessed that you would be familiar with Billy Jack.  :)  I should warn you though, I have this thing for handsome heroes.  ;)  (Shh, don't tell anyone.)
"Where have all the good men gone and where are all the gods?
Where's the street wise Hercules to fight the rising odds?"
~Steinman/Pitchford

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Re: Ferocity, meekness, and chivalry in the modern world.
« Reply #11 on: 2008-04-10, 00:44:10 »
I should warn you though, I have this thing for handsome heroes.

Setting the record straight... after all I married one.  Do you think just anybody would come directly from a Boy Scout meeting to accompany me to an industrial park so that he can get hit on the head all to keep me company and involved with what's important to me?

"Where have all the good men gone and where are all the gods?
Where's the street wise Hercules to fight the rising odds?"
~Steinman/Pitchford

Christian Tobler

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Re: Ferocity, meekness, and chivalry in the modern world.
« Reply #12 on: 2008-04-10, 02:28:39 »
Was Mark wearing his Billy Jack Navajo hat? ;)

CHT

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Re: Ferocity, meekness, and chivalry in the modern world.
« Reply #13 on: 2008-04-10, 04:48:16 »

OK, now I think I need to rent some DVDs. :)

But anyway, thinking some more on the topic, it seems to me that this dichotomy of ferocity and meekness is very much at the core of the chivalric ideals. In the warrior ethos that Chivalry was back in the day, I think there very much was the sense of "I'd rip your heart right out of your chest if it would win me the tournament, but only for that reason and no other"... Ferocity and brutality as a carefully measured response, not out of malice, and ending with the conflict.

There's definitely a modern need for seeking the right balance, when we see imbalances along these lines in a variety of places. An example that comes to mind is a certain (in)famous boxer a number of years ago who bit someone's ear. One's aptitude in their sport might be highly attributable to the enthusiasm and vigor they have in it, but when they can't step away and turn it off, they can't function as a normal productive member of society. Another example is the classic case of many police officers who alienate their families because they can't switch off the suspicious, antagonistic, and intimidating attitude that serves them well on the job.

However I'd agree with Pamela's line of thought that in the modern world, we probably see more of the opposite problem (partially having to do with devaluing social roles, and political correctness, etc)... Normal people in society, with good social aptitude, who crack under pressure or otherwise can't rise to a necessary challenge.

But it's interesting to see where one can find tidbits of a more chivalrous, balanced approach in modern media as well, particularly in unexpected places. As cheezy as this sounds, I was just watching Rocky III this week and caught a glimpse... At the start of the film, Rocky faces off against a character played by Hulk Hogan. Before it begins, he asks Hogan if he'd be up for a Polaroid photo afterwards, but then the fight begins and quickly gets out of control. Rocky ends up fighting with the gloves off, and when it ends he asks "so how about that Polaroid?", and Hogan says "sure". No malice, even after that level of brutality in the fight. Many would just look at that as good sportsmanship, but I thought it was amusing, and tied into the discussion here. :)  (I'm watching all sorts of films from the last several decades, making heavy use of the online rental thing)


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Re: Ferocity, meekness, and chivalry in the modern world.
« Reply #14 on: 2008-04-10, 11:48:04 »

OK, now I think I need to rent some DVDs. :)

In the meantime, a little preview:   

I found the video when I was looking for a recording of the song "One Tin Soldier".  It still has a powerful message to it.

And, yes, Billy Jack can hang his hat on my bedpost anytime.    :D
"Where have all the good men gone and where are all the gods?
Where's the street wise Hercules to fight the rising odds?"
~Steinman/Pitchford