Saturday, February 25, 2012

Platypus Archetypes or "What I learned in Grad School"

Bear with me as I try to work something out here.

I was having a conversation with a fellow teacher during a prep period and when some of the students came in and dropped their gear before heading off to etiquette (the students have etiquette on Friday as a .5 unit class).  That turned the conversation toward why we teach etiquette and what sort of thing manners are (they're not morality, but are they a vehicle for expressing morality, primarily charity towards neighbor).  This is an ongoing discussion we've been having for over a year now: is part of education producing Ladies and Gentlemen; if so, what is a Lady or a Gentleman, and do they come in one variety or many?

Each time we return to these questions, the subject of archetypes come up.  Are there certain cultural archetypes that can be found in literature and other media and pointed to as "ideals"?  You'll notice I use the word "ideals."  Given the diversity of humanity, my colleague and I find that one solitary ideal  for the Lady or Gentleman seems problematic.  Even in religious terms, we see the Apostle Paul point to Christ as the ultimate ideal, but then confess that within what he calls "the body of Christ," that is the community of Christians, there is a diversity of embodiments of that ideal according to different spiritual gifts.  We also notice that Paul sets himself up as an intermediate ideal when he urges believers to "follow me as I follow Christ."  We also don't want to confuse being a Lady or a Gentleman with being "saved" or "Christian."  Manners may express morals, but they are not morals.  A requirement of being a True Lady or Gentleman may be that they be moral, but there are many moral people who have not mastered the complex web of manners that makes one a Lady or Gentleman (Still with me?  Alright, forward through the minefield).  If what I said is true, then we should be able to find sets of "ideal" Ladies and Gentleman that will match the diversity of human personalities and interests.

Now where do we go looking for archetypes?  A Christian might immediately point to the saints and heroes of the churches.  A classicist might point ancient literature: Achilles, Odysseus, Aristotle, Xenophon (hmmm.  Notice that the Greeks are all men?).  Both of those are valid, and we might go looking in quite a few more places.  Being rather intellectually malformed, I have to confess that my mind keeps turning back to Roll-Playing Games.

Roll-Playing Games are essentially a set of rules to guide a certain form of improve theater.  These rules usually involve a way to determine how skilled a given character is at performing certain tasks, ways for determining injury/death, setting details for a fantasy world that serves as a backdrop for the characters and their story, and various character classes (or archetypes) to assist in creating a character.  Now how does that relate to being a Gentleman or a Lady?  The character classes in RPGs seem to fall along the lines of strongly rooted archetypes: the warrior, the poet, the diplomat, the scholar.  I've also observed that most players naturally gravitate toward a character class that matches their own personality.  I, for instance, naturally tend toward Eclipse Caste Exalted and D&D Bards.  The fact that these character classes work so well in helping players create characters validates the idea in my mind that archetypes are in someway real and meaningful categories.  If so, then when seeking to form Ladies and Gentlemen, we must ask not simply "what makes a Lady or a Gentleman," but "what does the Lady Scholar look like," or "What does the Gentleman Diplomat look like."  The follow-up would be: "beyond basic good manners, how does a Lady or Gentleman Poet/Warrior/Diplomat/Scholar/etc. conduct themselves?"

Well, if that makes no sense, the fault is mine.  This is an idea I've been hammering through for a while now, and I'm still not sure how it all fits together.  Let me know if you have any ideas!


Graf Spee said...

I definitely haven't spent the hours you have on the question, so just one thought. There may not be a good definition of what a gentleman or a lady is. It may have more to do with proper conduct for the situation. To paraphrase a comment from another context, "I may not be able to tell you what a gentleman is, but I know one when I see one."

And, from my own personal experience, some people are born to be gentlemen. Some people are trained to be one by their mothers. For the rest of us, it takes an act of Congress. ;}

James said...

I hear you on that one. One of my co-workers describes a gentleman as "one who brings out the right skill or refinement for each occasion that presents itself." In that case, a lady or a gentleman would be someone who has intentionally cultivated a multitude of skills and refinements (which usually implies leisure) and knows how to bring them out at the socially-acceptable time with finesse; a sort of adept "renaissance man."

Love the last bit. Amend for honorifics!