The International Fellowship of Chivalry-Now

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Presentation
January 5, 2007, Harmony House

Good evening. Before I begin, I'd like to beg your indulgence for a while. I need to tap into your imaginations. To do that, I'd like you to relax and close your eyes and listen very carefully.

(At this point, Dean's wife, Lynne, read a version
of the web site's Introductory Message.)

I'm here to introduce you to something a little out of the ordinary. We call it Chivalry-Now. You may wonder how anything with such a name could have relevance in a world suffering from poverty, terrorism and global warming. I hope to convince you, before leaving tonight, that it does .
     Chivalry-Now focuses on the culture we live in, a culture that offers incredible benefits, and a few drawbacks as well. It is my premise that our culture fails us in some very important objectives. I propose that reinstating those objectives will result in a positive impact on virtually all our problems, as a nation and as individuals.
     Does that sound a little far-fetched? Perhaps it is. If it can be shown, however, that most of our problems stem from a common source, it will pay to approach this subject with an open mind.
     Let's start at the beginning. The purpose of culture is to define and propagate what is held to be true in a given society. It preserves and promotes a common set of values. This includes an understanding of right and wrong, what is acceptable and unacceptable. It compares the expediency of the moment to lessons learned from history, tradition, religion and commonly held myths. All these factors coalesce within the collective consciousness that we call culture, providing a moral context for our everyday lives. We see these dynamics in every society on earth.
     Our culture here reflects a mixture of divergent traditions. That's because our nation was largely founded by immigrants. Our traditions come from every continent, including our own Native American population.
     Predominantly, however, we remain an offshoot of Western Civilization, with its focus on personal freedom, individualism and respect for law.
     These basic philosophies serve us well. We enjoy the benefits of science, the personal liberties protected by our Constitution, unparalleled opportunities and an overall system of cooperation. Our way of life has long been the envy of the world.
     If we are honest, we have to admit that things could be better. Despite our wealth, power and technology, poverty still exists. Racism and sexism continue in varying degrees. Some of us actually believe that it is morally acceptable to shape the world to our liking through the horrors of war.
     Our level of violence remains shamefully high. Prisons are overcrowded. Many of our citizens suffer from alcohol and other chemical abuse. Their families suffer as well.
     Less visible, but more endemic, are people who sacrifice their individual potentials for a life that is empty of purpose or direction. These are lives that are unfulfilled and tend to stay that way. A significant portion of Americans suffer from existential ennui, living day to day barely conscious of their own deprivation of abundant life. It doesn't have to be this way, yet our choices make it so.
     What accounts for this? Why should people in the richest, most advanced nation in the world continually make poor decisions at every level? Why did we engage in an unjust war of choice that we knew was wrong from the very start. And yes, we knew it was wrong. We knew that Saddam Hussein had no connections to Al Qaeda. A little thought would have told us that we could not impose a Western style democracy on a culture where beliefs are very different from our own. Was it just a mistake? Or was it deeper, more fundamental?
     There are wealthy business people in this country whom we hold in high esteem. Their success inspires others to emulate them. The leaders of Enron were such people, praised by magazines and rewarded far beyond their merit. We were stunned to learn of their actions, how so many innocent people lost their life-savings, while CEOs profited obscenely.
     We previously looked at these men as role models, even though they were hired and trusted by their stock holders for the very traits that contributed to their downfall. You know: Pushing the line. Occasionally crossing it. Manipulating people. Making promises they never intended to keep. They received hefty bonuses for decisions that were morally questionable. That we respected and admired such people, and still do to an extent, shows how disconnected we are from our own moral imperatives. How could that be?
     Automotive conglomerates gave no heed to the imminent threat of global warming. Neither did their customers. SUVs still dominate the highways, forcing our dependency on foreign oil, while supporting the very terrorists who want to destroy our way of life. We knew the cost of our decisions. We also knew that the cost of oil would continue to rise, leading to the layoffs of thousands of automotive workers. Yet we did it any way. In fact, we rushed to do it against all common sense. Why?
     Why do national politicians resort to lies during election campaigns, and yet we still applaud them, reassuring more of the same behavior in the next election? Are we really fashioning the kind of leaders we want in moral America?
     All this boils down to a single question: Why do we make such poor decisions, when we ultimately know better?
     The only answer, short of "not caring," is that something is wrong in the way we see things, something is missing in our culture that needs to be replaced. That's where Chivalry-Now comes in.
     My previous career was in social services. For 25 years I encountered people who needed help just to survive. Listening to their stories was eye-opening to say the least.
     I often heard a collection of values that directly contributed to making poor choices. More often than not, people made the same mistakes over and over. Their priorities often seemed confused or contradictory. Their anger and frustration suggested something more than their present situation. The impetus to modify their lives seemed lacking, or broken. This was true for men especially. Women usually carried on, raising their kids as best they could, while looking for help in all the wrong places.
     But the men, not all of them of course, displayed an irresponsibility that was as shocking as it was blatant. They moved from one job to the other, or lived off their girlfriends who barely survived themselves. Most often these men were fired from their jobs for not showing up, or getting into fights, or stealing. Many drank to excess, or took illegal drugs. Child support was an afterthought, if that. I remember how one man bragged about how he avoided paying support for his own children! He said this without shame. Some of these male clients committed crimes without a tad of conscience for their victims. They expressed an arrogant pride at being street-smart.
     At the same time, leaders of Enron were publicly denying culpability for their actions. They expressed an arrogant pride that came from wealth and power.
     Do you see the similarities?
     Consider: Jack Abramoff considered himself a moral, religious man. What could he possibly think when confronted by verbal transcripts of his greed?
     Despite the amazing success of feminism, much of the power in this country remains in the hands of men. I propose to you that it is here, in the ideological culture of men, that the roots of many of our problems can be found and hopefully mended.
     A couple hundred years ago, the culture of men was interrupted like never before. The Industrial Revolution took them from their farms or shops and thrust them into factories. Young boys no longer learned job skills at their fathers' sides. Even worse, they no longer learned firsthand what it means to be a man. Instead, they heard abridged definitions, enough to know that men were supposed to be strong, loud and competitive. They learned to hide their insecurities, either shuffling back into the shadows in uncomfortable situations, or stepping forward belligerently when inappropriate. Many learned, to their detriment, that drinking alcohol was somehow considered manly. There was nothing manly about it, of course, but drinking did ease the pain for a while, and lower inhibitions. Sports offered something that appeared masculine, and many looked there for a sense of identity. Even though these alternatives lacked depth and meaning, they had to suffice.
     What was missing was a sense of purpose in their lives. The resulting emptiness had to be hidden and ultimately denied. The rage in their hearts stemmed from an inner rebellion against a world that offered little satisfaction. They looked to other men for answers, but they were just as afflicted, just as defensive.
     Men still had power. They drew higher incomes, and often had better jobs than women. They held onto the title of being "man of the house," even as it lost more and more of its meaning. Partnerships with women often deteriorated, raising artificial barriers between the sexes. Low self-esteem sometimes turned violent against the very people they loved.
     Centuries of traditions and rites-of-passage disappeared. What took their place? Child labor? Street gangs? Female role models who had little understanding of male issues? Fathers who had less and less to offer with each generation? Radio? Television? The Internet? The latest lure of technology? No matter what distraction they turned to, the emptiness remained. While women advanced emotionally and psychologically through feminism and their own efforts, men receded, hiding behind a façade of strength and bravado.
     The answer to this cannot be found in workshops or pop-psychology. It can only be found by repairing our broken culture.
     During the Middle Ages, a warrior ethic arose called chivalry. It was far more complicated and rich than merely a code of behavior among a particular class of men. It incorporated diverse strands of mythology, cultural ideals that were surprisingly profound, and religious undercurrents that focused on spiritual mystery rather than any particular doctrine. Here we find powerfully comprehensive descriptions of what it means to be a man that were acceptable to both genders. You might be surprised to know that aristocratic women financed the popularity of chivalry. They wanted men who were more attentive, refined and less violent.
     What did medieval chivalry teach?
     Honesty, strength, justice, mercy, loyalty, defending the helpless, being courteous to others, respect for women and avoiding scandal. From this conglomeration of ideals, the notion of romantic love was simultaneously born.
     Chivalry survived the Middle Ages by infusing itself in the Victorian concept of gentlemanly behavior. It was evolving, as it should, and would have continued to evolve, if not for the shock of the Industrial Revolution.
     We find remnants of this code persisting today. In tales of the Old West, where wandering paladins trade their swords for six-shooters in the name of justice. We find them in comic book heroes who save the day while fighting against evil. Such fantasy stories as Lord of the Rings and Narnia are more direct in their depictions. Turning to reality, we find elements of chivalry infused in military protocol, and every other profession where honor and integrity are still held in high esteem.
     The personal need for something like chivalry is apparent on every boy's face when he hears tales about fighting dragons or rescuing fair damsels. The quest still beckons with unrelenting appeal. The disillusionment of growing up in a society that fails to nourish these ideals is nothing short of tragic. What happens to these young men? We cast their impressionable minds into a sea of crass commercialism, without guidance or a word of hope for their internal needs.
     We live in a world of contradiction. We are told to be loving and compassionate, yet competitive as well, even ruthless when opportunity knocks. Integrity is valued, but we are also told that winning is everything. Idiotic entertainers are treated to celebrity worship, while hardworking men who love their families get no recognition at all.
     The purpose of Chivalry-Now is to reintroduce an ethic into our culture that will assist men in every aspect of their lives. Its goal is to provide them a moral foundation that rises above the contradictory values of today. While it draws its origin from medieval chivalry, it also embraces such Enlightenment ideals as freedom, democracy, and equal rights. It propagates honor and respect between men and women as friends and natural allies. It explains to young boys how to embrace heroic traditions in their everyday lives. It gives the kind of purpose and meaning to life that transcends the drudgery of 9 to 5.
     It is my hope that Chivalry-Now, through all our efforts, catches on in the public imagination, leading us as a nation to a new moral integrity and fuller way of life.
     I could go on for hours, but now is not the time. If any of you are interested, you can find more information on our web site, www.chivalrynow.net.

Thank you.

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