The International Fellowship of Chivalry-Now

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Rotary Club Speech
January 30, 2013

We live in a nation that enjoys many advantages in resources, education, civil rights and economic potential. Most of these benefits are no accident. The historical highlights of Western culture, built upon a strong respect for reason and compassion, are responsible for making them available to us all. We are fortunate for that.

Have you ever wondered why, with all these advantages, our prisons are filled beyond capacity, senseless mass murders regularly assault the nation's conscience, and our political system of, by and for the people, accomplishes so little that makes sense?

Have you ever wondered why so many of our citizens turn to drugs or alcohol to make their daily lives easier to bear? Or why so many children never get the kind of parenting that will help them grow into clear-minded, independent, and capable adults? We consider ourselves a benevolent and enlightened people, and yet racism, sexism and domestic violence still impede our finest aspirations.

Of course, it's impossible to find a society that is completely free of problems. That's because people have a tendency to make problems. When we try to fix them, the remedies are often expensive, applied too late, or just don't work very well. A better course of action would be to get people to create fewer problems. As naive as that may sound, people can make better choices in their lives. The challenge is getting them to do that on a mass scale. Think about it. Where would we even start?
We live in a free country. Long ago, our founders rightly concluded that it should not be the responsibility of government to influence people's lives beyond the dictates of law. It is the purview of culture to inspire mature reasoning and good behavior. When a culture fails in that regard, when it does not reflect or encourage a moral philosophy through discourse and common expectations, something fundamental to our well-being is lost. Our cultural identity becomes incomplete; our ability to handle everyday problems becomes infirmed.

In the West, we suffer from a cultural breakdown that began during the Industrial Age, when factories drew families away from their farms to live in crowded cities. When this happened, certain parental roles naturally changed - those of men especially. Sons no longer learned by their fathers' sides. What was once a common learning process was suddenly lost by forced separation, where the father was gone most of the day, and exhausted when he returned at night. Although mothers did their best to compensate, a long-standing, cultural dynamic was obliterated in a single generation.

We've all heard that nature abhors a vacuum. The sudden difficulties in transmitting a vibrant moral philosophy created a void that was quickly filled by the economic philosophy of the Industrial Age. Capitalism. While Capitalism remains a valuable economic system that deserves our respect, its primary focus on the acquisition of wealth was a poor substitute for a moral philosophy based on conscience and reason. With values dictated more and more by commercial interests, moral conflict was inevitable - on one side, the somewhat faded echo of values rooted in the past; on the other, the immediate lure of material profit, well-designed to compete for popular attention. This conflict continues today. It defines the world we live in.
For the last 35 years I have worked in the field of social services in Middlesex County. During that time, I learned about the various roadblocks that prevent people in trouble from turning their lives around. The programs I administered were too limited to really make a difference, and often enabled people to keep on making the same mistakes.

Trying to imagine better alternatives, I entertained the idea that a cultural approach might be more successful. If we could modify our culture in a way that would inspire people to make better decisions in their lives, it would have a remedial affect on all our social problems - and at very little cost! The premise made perfect sense. But how do we accomplish that? Do we create something new and engineer it into a social norm? Are we smart enough for that? Or do we reclaim something lost that would jumpstart us in the direction? If the latter, what exactly would that something be?
The answer came to me in the early-1990s while attending a performance of the musical Camelot. The story referenced an historically beautiful code of ethics that actually did make lasting, cultural improvements to Western culture. The name of that code was chivalry.

Now, let me be clear. I knew right away that resurrecting chivalry from medieval times was not the answer. Chivalry reflected the feudal society that it flourished in and was not meant for today. It did, however, get me thinking. I began to wonder what chivalry would be like if it had evolved over the last thousand years. What would its code of honor and truth, courtesy and generosity be like, influenced by the Renaissance, the Age of Reason, existentialism's call for personal responsibility, feminism, and the implications of science? Would it provide something that could heal our broken culture, set our nation back on course and return Capitalism to its proper sphere of influence? At the same time, would it also appeal to that deeply-seated, frustrating need that so many of us have for a way of life that is more authentically human? So, it's not about chivalry-then, but rather chivalry-now!
Over the last 15 years, the idea expanded and gained a life of its own. We now have a website that offers 100 articles on the subject, two published books, and an online forum consisting of enthusiastic people from around the world. We call ourselves The International Fellowship of Chivalry-Now.

The introductory level of this movement focuses on a distilled code of ethics inspired by medieval chivalry, but updated for today's world. We call this code the 12 Trusts, which is the main focus of our first book. Our second book unveils a relevant timeline of philosophical concepts, starting in ancient Greece, that influenced the entire development of Western civilization. Both books present a cogent explanation of our real cultural inheritance and how it relates not only to social development, but to personal growth and spiritual fulfillment.

In respect for personal freedom, Chivalry-Now seeks to eliminate our social problems not through coercion or deception, but through inspiration, empowering people to make better choices in their lives. It does that without attachment to political partisanship, expensive programs or long-term therapies. Furthermore, its power comes from ideals already imbedded in our cultural DNA that we instinctively recognize and respond to. Our goal as an organization is to reignite popular enthusiasm for those ideals in order to build a future of sanity, progress and peace.

I invite you all to explore Chivalry-Now as a supplement to the philanthropic activities that the Rotary Club already sponsors. I think you will find them compatible.

Thank you.


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