Seemingly everything has been called a “lost art.”
Spelling, conversation, keeping a secret, note taking, listening, and even (why not?) hollering. One string of online text even refers to the lost art of blogging.What constitutes a lost art?
Is it a talent that was once universal but has now grown outmoded and become the practice of specialists? Such as knot tying?
Or is a lost art an activity that Dad used to teach his son or Mom passed down to her daughter but now no moms or dads have time to teach anymore? Such as etiquette?
Is a lost art a capability that has been marginalized by technology, such as wilderness navigation (by GPS and MapQuest) or calligraphy (by the printing press)?
And think about this.
How many millers, tanners, smiths, or coopers do you know? Not people named Miller, Tanner, Smith, or Cooper. Instead, the lowercased practitioners of bygone trades: millers of wheat, tanners of leather, smiths of iron, and makers of barrels. Have you ever met anyone who knows how to mill or tan or smith or coop?
And what ever happened to the art of chivalry? Did it really die?
Chivalry Isn’t Dead
A girl on a red bicycle comes to the intersection of Gresham and Garnet in Pacific Beach. Midday traffic clogs the streets. A man in a white car slows down and stops and extends his hand. He smiles and motions for the girl on the red bicycle to go first.
“People have this perception that chivalry was lost in the past,” Scott Farrell says, speeding back up in his Honda Accord after the girl has ridden across. “Or that it doesn’t have anything to do with us today. Or it’s kind of absurd. So I came up with this notion of putting together an educational program that looked at the ideals of chivalry, both in their authentic sense, as a warrior’s code, and to look at how that warrior’s code still kind of affects us today. It still really shapes our image of what a hero is and how someone acts who has a sense of duty and responsibility.”
Farrell works as a writer, educator, and actor. He’s been involved in historical reenactment groups, Renaissance fairs, Shakespeare festivals, and medieval tournaments for nearly 30 years. For one of his main educational jobs, he puts on a full suit of medieval armor and visits schools to demonstrate a bygone time and talk about history.
Chivalry, according to Farrell, is the understanding that somebody with a greater sense of power, authority, and strength has a greater responsibility. And what that means is, you don’t use your power to impress people or to enrich yourself, but you use it to make the world a better place.
“At the core of chivalry,” Farrell explains, “is the need to get away from the sense that one is the center of the world and, in everyday interactions, to look at ways to find a place to help somebody out. Even if it’s just to open a door or carry a package or stand when somebody enters the room. Those little acts of courtesy are a way to break out of that mentality of thinking that you’re the center of the universe. And so there is a sense of ‘I am the strongest kid on the block,’ but chivalry teaches that it puts a greater responsibility on the strong person to be careful, to be fair, to be honest, to be just. And in today’s world — and this is why chivalry seems dead, as they say — we kind of almost have developed the reverse of chivalry: the stronger you are, the less the rules, the less you should have to worry about the rules, the more you can bluster through the world and do what you want. But that’s really a recipe for anarchy, on some level.”
Farrell has distilled the code of chivalry into seven knightly virtues: courage, justice, generosity, mercy, nobility, faith, and hope.
“Whereas many of us think of chivalry in the sense of opening the door for a lady or putting your coat down over a puddle,” he goes on, “I find it much more appropriate to consider chivalry in terms of how you treat other people in traffic, for instance. Do you go through traffic and cut people off and think you have a right to be rude and create dangerous situations? Or do you realize that you’re not the most important person on the road and other people have to get places too? That’s a much more contemporary way of seeing chivalry being applied today, rather than looking for the manners of 50 years ago in today’s world.”
Where will we find examples of chivalry in today’s world?
“I think the environmental movement these days is bounded on our sense of chivalry, our sense of protecting those that cannot protect themselves,” Farrell says. “Well, the planet cannot protect itself. And so, our sense of sacrifice is kind of born in that sense of chivalry.”
He thinks a moment. “A lawyer that does pro bono work is chivalrous,” he says. “A teacher that stays after school to help the students.”
And then Farrell taps the steering wheel of his Honda.
“Behind the wheel of a car, someone’s real character really comes out,” he says. “And we don’t think about it, but we get behind the wheel of a car, and we’re driving a weapon that puts most of the weapons of a medieval knight to shame. And we think nothing about blazing down a little residential street at 50 miles per hour.”
As Farrell talks, it’s clear that he’s focused on his road courtesy. He drives about five miles per hour under the speed limit, doesn’t change lanes without a blinker, and doesn’t get mad when he gets cut off.
It may be a fanciful connection, but the car is the modern horse, and the word “chivalry” comes from the word for “horse.”