January 30, 2013
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
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
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.
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
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.