A man held the door for me at the gym the other day. This is a common enough courtesy, but for some reason it got me pondering. This man was much bigger and stronger than me. He was also younger than me. So maybe he was a gentleman holding a door for a lady, or maybe he was a young person holding the door for an older person.
My Prophet’s Chronicle series is all about egalitarianism—the principle that all people are equal and therefore deserve equal opportunities. But if all people are truly equal, is this kind of door-opening deference silly?
And are people genuinely equal? Obviously not. Some people are taller, stronger, smarter, more creative, more ambitious, more capable than others. So perhaps what I’m really after is a meritocracy.
Either one lies in sharp contrast to the peerage system, in which rank is derived from one’s family status rather than one’s own accomplishments. Such a system requires the older, wiser person of no rank to defer to the younger, more foolish person of rank. That’s way sillier than opening doors for people.
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.—Galatians 3:28
I’m reminded of Newman Noggs, a character in The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens, who has fallen on hard times. In referring to his earlier days, he says, “I was a gentleman then.” Of course Noggs is one of the most gentlemanly characters in the story, from a modern American view. But in the Victorian view, a ‘gentleman’ was a man of property. Having lost his property, he loses the appellation.
So if we live in a society where one’s status as a gentleman or a lady is dependent not on property or circumstances of birth, but on one’s behavior, is the practice of gentlemen deferring to ladies unegalitarian?
I put it to you that what matters is context. In business, we defer based on rank—that is, seniority within the firm—rather than by age or gender. So the newly hired salesperson would open the door for the sales director, even if the new hire is a middle-aged woman and the director is a young man.
In social situations, we defer based on what we can observe. So the young man opens the door for the older woman.
I have heard tell of women who get offended by old-fashioned gestures of this sort. Their complaint, so I hear (I have never actually witnessed such a thing), is that the act of opening the door implies that the woman is incapable of doing so herself.
There is nothing rude about opening a door for someone else, regardless of your relative ranks, genders, financial status, or anything else. The rudeness lies in berating someone for offering a well-intended favor.
I don’t claim to have the complexities of this egalitarian meritocratic scheme all figured out. But these are the things I think about as I explore the ramifications of what it really means for all people to be created equal.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.—Philippians 2:3-4