The Modern Gentleman and The Art of Disagreement

By Daniel van Voorhis

Aggressive businessman

After years of angst, anger, and despair I think I may have stumbled across the source of my frustrations and the possible solution to the cultural and theological dissonance that plagues me, and so many of us. The answer is, perhaps, more simple than I had thought. I’ll get to my solution later.

General manners, being a gentleman, having decorum—these things are hard enough.

And then if we move to more specific issues pertaining to social graces it gets trickier. I have to hold my tongue when I see someone terribly underdressed for an occasion, swearing around children, or not attempting to hold doors open for others.

These are minor frustrations. Some of them bother me more than others, and a lot of times, it depends on my mood. You probably have a list of things that drive you crazy. Maybe they are pet peeves. Maybe you are pretty certain that others are simply doing it wrong.

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When I see a few kids at dinner before a formal dance, I can forgive the pre-tied bow tie and slightly oversized jacket. When I see a business man strutting whilst wearing a windsor knot with a button down collar, square toed shoes and an ill fitting shirt with the sides puffing out of the waist that resemble something from an 18th c. French court, I have a harder time forgiving.

There are other things that hit me on a more visceral level. Utopian libertarians that assume the best about an unregulated market, and socially conscious democrats that condescend to minorities and promote upper class guilt frustrate me. Republicans that ASPIRE to be something resembling a mixture of Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gekko and Dana Carvey’s Church Lady make me ashamed to identify with the Republican Party. My blood pressure is rising just writing these things.

Maybe part of this is my age. As I get older I am finding more and more people with ridiculous ideas. Maybe it’s the younger generation ignoring the wisdom handed down to them. I’m sure part of it is the older cranky generation that just can’t get on board with the changing times.

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When it comes to theological positions (something near and dear to many readers of this site) I have found people claiming to be part of one tradition but not adhering, consistently, to the historical tenants of their position. Some people just aren’t reading their confessions closely enough or through the right lens. And then there are those who are so open, they disregard the need for any consensus.  I’m cool with a little latitude but, c’mon, let’s not get out of hand.

And so back to the solution to all of this maddening, frustrating, sometimes deflating cacophony of social, political, and theological jibber jabber.

Everyone needs to think like me. Or let me think for you. Or at least let me give you the proper places wherein you will find the answers to issues that will allow you to put together positions consistent with mine.

If I am feeling especially humble, I might allow you to think for me. Sometimes I’m tired, and I’d really appreciate you telling me where it’s at. I understand that you feel frustrated with how others aren’t thinking like you. Maybe on Friday’s I’ll let your twitter feed show me the right people to scoff at and the right articles to read.

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You have certainly picked up the sarcasm. And perhaps you are going one step further and finding a bit of inconsistency with an article telling you how to think by having fun at the expense of other articles and outlets that tell you how to think. Here’s the rub, and perhaps where a little bit of manners and decorum can help us all work on our inconsistencies.

The most gracious to one kind of people are often times the angriest and least gracious to others. The most politically and financially generous are sometimes the most prideful and ideologically rigid. And those who try to hone their wardrobe and social graces can sometimes look like the biggest buffoons and sound like priggish anachronisms.

So what do we do? Should we ignore the quest for the better answers and consistent positions? Should we respectively decline to stand by declarative statements that claim some propositions to be true and others false? Should we accept the lowest common denominator in the realm of ideas as to allow the most number of people to live in harmony?

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Or maybe there is another way. In fact, I know there is a better way. It’s just that I haven’t figured it out yet. And despite my tenuous grasp on things, I write a weekly article here on The Jagged Word, host a weekly podcast, teach impressionable undergraduates throughout the week, and have somehow been deemed responsible enough to raise two small children.

I don’t like muddied thinking or “gray areas” (after all, that’s where I hear the worst kind of people congregate). But I can’t be upset when people don’t think like I do. I can’t run away from the existence of “capital T” truths, or declarative statements. I won’t stop trying (with others) to think about things out loud on the podcast with Jeff or examining and opining on fashion and culture on this website. I dig the people on sites with whom we share affection for similar things. I think there is a community that is built around a consensus on certain truths. I think we can understand those who are complete opposites and try to figure out how our first premises differ. I think those who differ just a little are often times the hardest with which to deal. I’m still trying to figure out how to act like a gentleman with those I probably agree with 70% of the time. The internet makes it harder. But maybe we can muddle through together with manners, grace and decorum. It’s at least worth a shot.

All the Best,

The Man About Town

Composed while sitting on the Pacific Surfliner #774, Southbound while listening to Yo La Tengo Stuff Like That There (2015)

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9 thoughts on “The Modern Gentleman and The Art of Disagreement

  1. I’m actually a little surprised at myself for thinking this, but this is one of my favorite columns on this blog. Not that the whole notion of “style” as an allegory isn’t often annoying for my reader mind to work with. But, somewhere between Lewis and Tolkien, you are able to communicate wisdom which speaks to me. Thanks.

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    1. Thanks Jean. I am out of my depths with some of the great things others write on this site. I am a historian by trade and style and manners are my avocation. We are looking to serve a disparate group and so I’m glad I can encourage some (or at least give good shoe advice)

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  2. Nice volley. Virtue and discourse! “Since the Sage does not contend, no one can contend with the Sage. … There is no greater disaster than contempt for an enemy. Contempt for the enemy — What a treasure is lost!” –Lao Tzu

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  3. Great article. I feel the same way about many things (though if you saw my style of dress, you’d probably cringe). Sometimes, I think I’m rather patient and understanding. While I’m giving myself kudos, though, I’ll see a young person wearing a baseball hat that is cocked sideways, and it then it all falls apart.

    Written while sitting in my office procrastinating.

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  4. I’m not a big advocate of proper dress and decorum. I was a punk rocker at age 15, so maybe I haven’t totally broken free of that way of thinking. I try to dress in a way that is appropriate for the situation because I realize others will think differently of me if I don’t, but ultimately I prefer to wear jeans, a t-shirt, and some tennis shoes 24/7.

    As far a having manners in a civilized conversation, I think the main thing is that we control our emotions, refrain from interrupting, and understand that we all approach life with a semi-coherent set of assumptions about the world. Certain ways of thinking and behaving make sense to an individual because of the values they were raised with, the experiences they’ve had, and the choices they’ve made. To challenge some one to think outside of their basic assumptions is never easy, but you’ll always catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

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  5. You know, much of what you say is true and we can relate to it, however, it can also be said that your feelings are “universally” true. I think when one reads history books, autobiographies from various historical times, journals and diaries as part of oral histories, one can connect personally with people from the past…recognizing in their first person narratives our own angst as well. I love a good history book. History forces me to listen to other voices in other times, especially rich wisdom found in journals of soldiers, housewives, politicians, and farmers…..all about life. I am reading a book about the French and Indian Wars, and the Revolutionary War, and the events decades before and after, about the people, Dutch, German Lutherans, English, Canadians, the Iroquois Confederation, and the wars between Native American tribes, alliances and cruelties, ruthless acts by European and Native alike, and the cooperation between groups…and acts of generosity and kindness in the midst of chaos and change. I recently moved from Arizona, a NY transplant who wanted to spend a few years in the desert, which I did for 7 years. Now I am in Clifton Park, NY, south of Saratoga, immersed and surrounded by history and battlefields and old historic houses…each with a story. And these lovely hills and green meadows surrounding me once ran red with the blood of colonists and Tories, with proxy European wars and skirmishes, and with deadly ambushes by Native Americans who hated seeing so many white farmers settling on their tribal lands. The angst of the participants, from missionaries to soldiers and farmers, and the Native American persoective, should be explored by all who want to understand the present. Things may seem to change with technology and time, but much remains the same as well.

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    1. I think we all fall into the pattern of complaining too much. Life is what it is, and sometimes we should just remember to pick our battles, choosing them on the basis of their significance. Let the rest go. In my mind, that goes for our daily lives as well as those thorny theological issues which Lutherans love to argue about on LutheranBlogs.

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    2. Come on Dan: help this dude out. I’ve heard Dan on this a few times, but it goes one ear and out the other because I wear my brother in laws’ hand-me-downs most of the time. Like wine, I know that I SHOULD like this or that, but it takes too much of my emotional and financial resources to figure that out. Follow your bliss, of course, but I think he’d say, that body type and collar style must be a part of the conversation for something like a Windsor. I think he’d say, stick with the four-in-hand knot unless you have a strong conviction otherwise. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bTMS9y8OVuY

      To the rest of y’all: Dan and I are pals, but I am the polar opposite of him in terms of attention to style. He is gracious (at least in front of my back) and has, to my knowledge, never given me any hassle about my pathetic wardrobe. He’s into style like you might be into fly fishing. If I break out my Walmart rig and you are a pro angler, you will scoff inside, but indulge me perhaps. Same with Dannyboy. Think about your favorite subject, and think about how you feel when you see folks “doing it wrong.” Then realize how big the heart is of my pal Dan when he sees you rocking pleated Dockers. All is well and even bad taste can’t separate you from eternal love.

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