RefinED Character is an educational consulting company specializing in social emotional development for preK-12 and collegiate communities.


Defining a Gentleman

Posted by Scott Heydt on Monday, December 9, 2013

RefinED Friends,

In 1852, Cardinal John Henry Newman delivered a series of lectures entitled "The Idea of a University", emphasizing how University environments are designed to mold student minds, not simply dispense knowledge.  Within his lectures, he spent time discussing his definition of a gentleman.  As I reread this portion today, a phrase struck me:

He (the gentleman) has his eyes on all his company; he is tender towards the bashful, gentle towards the distant, and merciful towards the absurd.

Let's consider this quote through the lens of our athletic teams, organizations, and Greek societies and the continued hazing epidemic they face.  It is called a rite of passage.  Some call it "bonding" or "character building."  Others see it as harmless fun.  But as aspiring gentlemen and gentlewomen (both young and old), is this true?

First, one who hazes does not have eyes on all his/her company.  In fact, we could say the individual who hazes is rather myopic, keen to the immediate whims rather than centered on the safety and well being of the organization and its members.

Hazing is not tender toward the bashful, those pressured to "endure" or "keep with tradition" for fear of further ridicule, injury, or embarrassment.

Hazing is not gentle toward the distant, those bystanders kept silent not by a lack of morality but often by natural fears such as legal, social, and/or physical repercussions, a desire to fit in, or a fear that they are alone in their thinking.

Hazing is absurd, and there is no condoning a hazing act.  But we must be merciful with those caught up in this hazing culture.  We must sit down and dialogue with these young men and women.  What is missing from their experience that hazing fulfills?  How does adolescence differ from years past and what cultural rites of passage are missing in our society?  How can we support them with decision-making when the social pressures are greatest?

John Henry Newman saw the University as a place to mold student minds, not simply a knowledge dispensary.  Our athletic teams, organizations, and Greek societies require gentlemen and gentlewomen to participate in and advise them so they can mold student minds and do away with simple dispensary of discipline and unchallenged tradition.  

As always, I welcome your comments, thoughts, and contributions!

Be well,


Tags: hazing  greeks  "athletic teams"  fraternity  sorority  "john henry newman"  university  gentleman  bonding  character  "refined character"