How do I “teach” a guy to be chivalrous? I want more guys to be gentlemen, but how can I influence them? I don’t want to marry them or anything, I just want more LDS boys to be “true men” who are kind, think of others, and participate in church.
Dear Feeling Helpless,
The last time I felt helpless was Thursday. I had recently spent a lot of money (we’re talking thousands of dollars) replacing some parts for my car. Thousands of dollars is a lot of money for anyone, but it felt like an especially large amount for me because I’m in the process of taking out many student loans and preparing for graduate school. After the repairs were made, it was nice driving my car around for a couple weeks worry-free, but just a few days ago, it started making a concerning noise, and I immediately knew something else would have to be fixed. I felt frustrated and exhausted when on Thursday, I learned I would have to spend another several hundred dollars on my car. But there was nothing I could do about it.
What does this story have to do with teaching boys to be chivalrous? Well, I believe the very way in which you signed your letter summarizes how many people in this world feel at any given moment: helpless. It’s how I felt when I had to spend so much money on my car, or how my friend felt when she learned her father had been diagnosed with an extremely rare form of cancer, or how my cousin felt when some formidable, thunderous clouds decided to dump rain on her wedding day. It’s how you feel when you watch intelligent, capable boys piddle away their potential with unbecoming behavior. We feel helpless when our siblings or friends or significant others make poor decisions, when terrorists decide to crash planes into tall buildings, when our computers crash before we get to save the paper we were up all night working on. We feel it when we’ve sinned, when we experience the pressure of expectation, when we feel alone. Helplessness plagues us and our society in all manners of form and circumstance. It’s a feeling we spend so much of our time thinking about, one we expend so much of our energy on.
My dear Helpless, there are millions of things we can’t control. I can’t control when my car needs a repair or how much it’s going to cost or that I need to come up with the money right as I’m about to start grad school. You can’t control whether or not boys are chivalrous and kind. My friend can’t control how rare her father’s cancer is. We want to be able to control those things. But to be perfectly honest, in most cases, what we want to happen has very little influence on what actually happens. And focusing on our desire to control the weather, or the cost of car parts, or others’ behavior (even if our intentions are good) is rather useless indeed. Cars are cars and they’re going to cost us loads money at the most inconvenient times of our lives. People are people and they’re going to do what they want.
So what can you do then, Helpless? What can any of us do? Because this all seems so very hopeless, doesn’t it? Well, let me let you in on a little secret, my dear. Life is incredibly hopeless when we focus on the things we can’t control. And while we can’t control others, we can control ourselves. We can’t control the rain, but we can control whether we dash inside to avoid it, or splash around in its puddles, losing ourselves in the inexplicably liberating sensation of it pattering on our noses and cheeks. We can control how we react to others’ decisions, or our attitudes when faced with frustratingly helpless situations.
So let’s apply this principle of control to your specific situation. What can’t you control? What can you control? Well, how you interact with these boys, for one: what you say to them, how you act around them, the way you carry yourself. If you know a boy who consistently treats others with disrespect and you feel comfortable enough to say something to him, do it. Explain in a kind way that it makes you feel upset or angry or frustrated when he acts the way he does. But recognize that just because you share those things with him, doesn’t mean he’s going to magically become more respectful, more kind. So don’t take it personally! I’ll say it again: you can’t make someone do something, but you can be a good example, a disciple of Christ, and you can choose to only date or spend time with boys who are polite and chivalrous, and you can express your feelings.
If you don’t feel comfortable talking to your friend(s) about it, then my heavens darling, why are you spending so much time worrying about it? I’m not asking this to be facetious or unkind, but rather to encourage a little introspection. Why do disrespectful boys bother you so much, and what can you honestly do about it? Once you spend more time pondering these questions, I hope you can feel a little bit more peace. It would be incredibly easy to answer to your question with something along the lines of “Do this” or, “say that,” but my purpose in responding isn’t ever to tell you what to do; rather, it is to encourage you to see things from a new perspective, to open your heart to new ideas, thoughts, and options.
Helplessness is the most ironic thing, my dear. As an emotion, it comes from a place of forlorn and weakness. It’s uncomfortable, and it necessitates vulnerability. And yet, as we step outside of ourselves and view our helpless circumstances from a place of perspective and understanding, we find that we have far more control over our helplessness than we realize. We find that we’re really not all that helpless after all.