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Cady is a staff writer here at The Hudsucker. She is an English major and Writing minor at Grand Valley State University. Her dream is to be a novelist or to work for a publishing company. She enjoys reading, traveling, and watching Boy Meets World, The Voice and Back to the Future. Follow her on Twitter as @cadyelizabeth9

Where Have All the Westleys Gone? The Search for Chivalry

Image Credit: 20th Century Fox/Act III Communications

Image Credit: 20th Century Fox/Act III Communications

Because I grew up on Disney movies and fairy tales, the first thing that usually pops into my mind when I hear the word chivalry is a handsome knight in shiny metallic armor riding a white horse on his way to rescue a damsel in distress or save a helpless princess from the clutches of an evil witch.

Oh, and who can forget Westley? Remember the farm boy in The Princess Bride who answered Buttercup’s every beck and call with a piercing blue stare, a soft, dashing smile, and the simple words “as you wish” who ended up seducing her with nothing more than his charm and gentlemanly ways?

“As you wish.” Fictional chivalry at its finest.

I say fictional chivalry because I believe those movies and stories have set us up with false expectations. Sure, that stuff might have worked just fine for all the Westleys and Buttercups of days past, but we rarely see that kind of chivalry nowadays, right?

Let’s look at what the word chivalry actually means. According to the Oxford Dictionary, it means “the medieval knightly system of values with its religious, moral, and social code.” Merriam Webster defines it as “the system of values (such as loyalty and honor) that knights in the Middle Ages were expected to follow” or “an honorable and polite way of behaving especially towards women.”

The first two definitions describe behaviors of medieval knights in the Middle Ages.  I took a British Literature class this semester, and we actually spent a lot of time discussing chivalry and how it is portrayed though early British literature. Poems and other fiction we read in the class were riddled with knights who follow those systems to a T: they defend the weak, they show mercy for those they engage in battle, they don’t attack unless provoked, they don’t attack an unarmed foe, and the list goes on. Basically, in its original context, chivalry pertained solely to knights and the way they were supposed to carry themselves, particularly how they were to act in battle.

The third definition from Merriam Webster touches on what the notion of chivalry has evolved into in a world where we no longer have knights roaming around with their swords at the ready. If the two earlier definitions are about chivalry in its original form, it’s easy to see how we got to where it means respecting and being polite toward women. Medieval knights don’t really exist anymore, so what’s left? Being polite.

So in the jump from being knights to being average everyday people, it seems we’ve overcompensated for the lack of sword-wielding by saying that chivalry is solely a man respecting a woman, probably because, historically, medieval knights also had a way with the ladies (when they weren’t too busy saving the day, of course.)

Image Credit: 20th Century Fox/Act III Communications

You’re probably thinking that I believe chivalry is just a thing of generations past or something that exists only in movies and books but you’d never find out in the real world. But I don’t. I just think we’ve been conditioned by those movies and books to perceive chivalry as one specific thing. I think we need to view chivalry as more than just a romantic ploy to gain someone’s affections, though that might be what stories lead us to believe it is. Chivalry can encompass so much more than just that. Simply put, it’s being respectful and kind to others without expecting anything in return.

And chivalry isn’t reserved as something that only a male can do for a female. It’s not like all the old black and white movies where the guy lays his jacket down on a puddle so his date doesn’t get her shoes wet. Chivalry knows no bounds. There aren’t any restrictions. Our society has evolved for the better since these stories were the norm. We’re strong people. The thing is, while we don’t necessarily need someone to swoop in and save the day, sometimes a gesture of kindness from others is a really awesome thing.

Which brings us back to our friend Westley. The dashing gentleman who did all he could to win Buttercup’s affections, even if it was something as simple as taking down a water pail that was too high up for her to reach. That’s the sort of thing that pretty much anyone would do for someone else if they could. Chivalry is alive and well if we think of it in terms of just being nice and considerate, and leave the notion that chivalry involves being romantic and pertains solely to handsome men riding on horses, to the movies.

So where have all the Westleys gone? Actually, I don’t think they’ve gone anywhere. The Westleys of our lives are out there in plain sight: the man holding the door open for a stranger, the woman giving up her seat to someone else on a crowded bus, the kid standing up for a classmate against a bully at school, the person who pays for the people standing in line behind them at the coffee shop. Chivalrous, kind, respectful people are all around us; we just might be too busy looking for the knight in shining armor to notice.

So get out and there and prove to the world that chivalry is not dead! Practice random acts of kindness. Compliment someone. Offer to help a person you see struggling to carry something. Hold the door open for everyone, no matter who they are.  You don’t need to slay dragons or brush up on your jousting skills. Do whatever you can to make someone’s day a little easier or a little better.

Be a Westley.

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