To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one's family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one's own mind. If a man can control his mind he can find the way to Enlightenment, and all wisdom and virtue will naturally come to him.


Respect for ourselves guides our morals; respect for others guides our manners

-Laurence Sterne

This morning as I was getting dressed, I pulled a shirt out of the dry cleaning bag and hung it on my staging bar. I removed the shirt from the hanger and as I did so, the wire hanger fell to the floor. Initially I thought nothing of it and continued getting dressed. I pulled on my slacks, tucked in the shirt, went to the bathroom to tie my necktie (Pratt knot this morning), and pulled on some socks.

It was as I was finishing my morning routine that I noticed the wire hanger on the floor.

I paused.

I looked at this wire hanger for a moment...and if it had eyes, it would have looked at me.

It was 4:30 in the morning, and I was anxious to start my day. My brain began churning out excuses for why I didn't need to pick it up, but frankly, the quick and final result was what I refer to as "The Flush." You see, at this point in my life, my brain and I have come to some understandings. For starters, I have made peace with the fact that my brain will never remain on one topic longer than thirty minutes without a break to "chase a butterfly." And in exchange, when I don't want to do something, my brain will provide an alternative thought to replace the thought of responsibility. I just turn my head, and the feeling of responsibility is instantly replaced. That is "The Flush." Out of sight, out of mind, and potentially someone else's responsibility.

It was as I was walking out of the bedroom, hanger happily forgotten, that a strange thing happened. Instead of continuing my morning, I began to think about the fact that I was walking away from something that was squarely my responsibility. It occurred to me that a gentleman would not do such a thing. That the turning of my back on the hanger, was not only me showing a lack of discipline but also showing disrespect for my wife, whom the hanger would have annoyed and insulted.

It got me thinking.

When one first sets out to learn a martial art, there is a progression of lessons and achievements. We are all more or less familiar with the concept of the "white belt" and the "black belt" and the process involved in reaching these milestones. But what may not be common knowledge is that when a practitioner receives their black belt, that is not the end of their training but the beginning. To achieve the black belt is to display that you have learned the lessons necessary to begin a lifelong pursuit--that you possess the tools necessary to begin your practice.

For a gentleman, the beginning of these lessons, the "white belt" if you will, is the basic understanding that all elements of the gentleman are rooted in two imperative traits: discipline and respect. Regardless of the topic we choose to discuss--education, sex, clothing, etc.--we will find that discipline and respect are at the heart of every matter.

Discipline and respect are both incredibly vast topics, far too vast to discuss in their entirety in one post. And in the future you will hear me refer to them often while discussing the proper way to handle situations. But for now, I will try to keep the definition of the terms loose so that we can leave it open for application in daily life.

Between discipline and respect, discipline presents a far greater challenge in terms of self correction. We call upon discipline in times of duress or need in order to keep us going. Discipline comprises a fair amount of courage in that often times, when we are faced with something terrifying, discipline keeps us standing strong. Discipline is the task master, the coach, the mother and the drill sergeant. Discipline, when your body and mind want to quit, will keep you going.

I assume, that when you read the above, you imagine discipline as being necessary in grueling and arduous tasks based in manual labor. And you would be correct. But those are the situations when it is easy to recognize the need for discipline. Recognizing the need for discipline in everyday life presents a far greater challenge. Much like the hanger incident this morning, (I did wind up picking it up, by the way) everyday discipline has to do with the little annoyances and responsibilities. Everyday discipline can be easily dismissed. And it can be ignored with little or no immediate repercussion.

But there will be repercussions. And whether or not you notice the ramifications, they will be there and they will multiply over time.

In the morning, leaving the toilet seat up displays a lack of discipline. Not doing the dishes, avoiding a chore, ignoring the mess in the corner, all of these exemplify the casual nature of the undisciplined mind. Every time you procrastinate, be it homework, paper work, cleaning, yard work, reading, exercising, or even brushing your teeth, you are exhibiting a lack of discipline.

When you lack discipline, not only are you exhibiting disrespect to those around you, but you are also showing that you don't respect yourself. You are telling others that you are above taking care of your responsibilities, and fully expect others to do it for you.

Opportunity shies away from the man devoid of discipline: both personally and professionally. Friends and family will not be able to rely on you and your boss will overlook you for all the truly important work. Without the opportunities to represent yourself, you will never be able to prove yourself and as such, a lack of discipline creates a never ending cycle of shallow and superficial tasks.

A man who lives a disciplined life, on the other hand, is easily recognized. Men of discipline garner trust, faith, and responsibility from those around them: be it professional or personal. Regardless of the task at hand, be it big or small, important or inconsequential, a disciplined man can be relied upon to complete the task in an orderly and efficient manner, or at the very least, to the best of his abilities. And since he always works to the best of his abilities, it is known what can be expected of him.

Discipline can also apply to social situations. Knowing your limit on alcohol consumption in order to maintain dignity and grace is a good example. Understanding that you do not need to behave in an undignified manner in order to fit in is another. There will be times in a polite conversation when someone will say something that raises your ire. Discipline will be what keeps you from taking the bait. Discipline will be what keeps you dignified.

Respect is an enormous part of being a gentleman. I cannot emphasize that enough. The instant respect, or at the very least respectful behavior, is lost, then so is the gentleman.

Respect can be the way you present yourself on a daily basis. How you dress for class, for example, is a sign of respect for your professor. What time you show up for a function is a sign of respect for your host. How often and with whom you copulate is a sign of respect for yourself. How you hold up your end of a conversation also conveys respect.

Pay attention to the next conversation you have with someone that you admire. Also pay attention to the next time you talk to someone you look down upon. See how your behavior differs between the two.

I'm willing to posit that when you are talking to someone you respect, you are engaged, inquisitive, direct, thoughtful, and whether you want to admit it or not, pleasing. Conversely, when you are talking to someone you don't respect, you will be removed, you will be looking around for an escape, you will not be paying close attention, and you will be giving numerous subconscious clues that you do not want to be there.

This is common behavior.

One can understand the latter situation as being disrespectful with little difficulty, but they would find it surprising to hear that the former situation is disrespectful as well. When you respect someone, the greatest compliment you can give them is honesty. Being a sycophant does not show respect for the person you are talking to and it does not show respect for yourself. The far more challenging road, and sometimes unappreciated one, is honesty and directness.

As a challenge to yourself, and an exercise in self-improvement, the next time you talk to someone you have little respect for, practice being a respectful listener and conversationalist. Focus on the things this person is saying and be thoughtful and present. Conversely, the next time you find yourself talking to someone you have a great deal of respect for, be direct, be honest, and really think about what is being said. You may be surprised to find that there is something to be respected in the one you previously did not, and that the person you thought you admired was perhaps elevated in your esteem.

The key to changing anything in your life is knowing what the problem is and approaching it with a clear mind. The principles laid out in any program of recovery from addiction are actually quite fantastic guidebooks for changing behavior. If someone is looking to become a more effective and positive member of society, addicts and alcoholics are by far the most practiced in initiating this change. And you could do worse than refer to their texts for guidance.

I am not suggesting that everything in these books will be applicable, but many will. A great example is taking a moral inventory. This is something we should all be doing. Every night, as your are laying in bed, before you fall asleep and you have that quiet, meditative time to yourself, ask yourself these questions:

  • Have I done everything today in a moral, respectful, and disciplined manner?
  • Have I done all I can to make sure that I have treated everyone respectfully?
More often than not, the answer will be no, and we will be able to identify those times that we have behaved as less than gentlemen. We can identify these situations and as we step back from them see how they are stemming from larger issue. Do you really have a problem with that co-worker and the way they talk, or is it a shortcoming in yourself?

As the saying goes, identifying the problem is the first step to finding the solution.

Until next time, be a gentleman.