Reawakening Manners and Morality in Men

The Code of the West

Cowboys

The Code of the West is not a set of rules. Rules can be broken. There are not enough rules in the world to make people do what is right. The Code of the West is a set of principles, which speak to the character of the man who owns them. They cannot be broken.  Therein lies the difference between rules and principles.  Rules define what you do, whereas principles define who you are.

Here are the principles that defined life on the open range.  I challenge any man to find at least one of these that needs some improvement in his life, and then work on improving it.

Live each day with courage

Courage was not something spoken about amongst cowboys except to notice its absence.  Courage was a job requirement when dialy facing stampedes, quicksand, indians, blizzards, bandits and herds of cattle that weigh over a ton a head.  A cowboy without courage would not be a cowboy for long.  His hesitation and fear could cost those he rode with their lives and he would not long find himself employed.  A cowboy is said to be “a man with courage and a horse,” and the virtues of fortitude and courage were as basic a requirement as breathing and having a pulse in order to do their jobs.

Modern application of the code:  Having courage is not just jumping into a pool to save someone’s life.  It is also being willing to speak up and say that something isn’t right, even against your friends, colleagues, partners, and bosses.

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. ~1 Corinthians 16:13

Take pride in your work

Cowboys did not see themselves as simply  hired hands, but thought of themselves as knights of the planes sitting tall in their saddles.  Their pride growing from their skills in riding and roping, their capacity for hard work and their indifference to danger or hard living on the range.  Cowboys certainly did not enjoy all aspects of their job, but they did everything to the best of their abilities.  Digging fence posts is not glamorous work and no cowboy ever enjoyed it, but they all did it.  They dug deep and straight so that the fence was solid and straight, they took pride in riding by the fence the next time through and thinking “I built that.”

Modern application of the code: There are a great many jobs that nobody enjoys doing, but still need to be done.  If you sweep the floor, do it so that it shines.  If you flip burgers, cook them in such a way that you would enjoy eating them.  Whatever you do, do it well.  If it’s worth doing at all, it’s worth doing it right.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.  It is the Lord Christ you are serving. ~ Colossians 3:23-24

Always finish what you start

If a cowboy signed on for a ride or a season, you knew that he would see it through to the end.  Cowboys hated quitters, whiners, and complainers.  In the movie Red River some cowboys have to make a hard journey that is known to be perilous, and John Wayne delivers a speech at the onset of the ride.  “Nobody has to come along.  We’ll still have a job for you when we get back.  But remember this: Every man who signs on for the drive agrees to finish it.  There’ll be no quitting along the way ~ not by me, not by you.”

Modern application of the code: If you begin a job, finish it.  If you start a project, see it through to the end.  Whatever it is that currently has your attention, stay the course.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.  ~2 Timothy 4:7

Do what has to be done

Cowboys stand up for what is right.  They deal with injustice and exact retribution when due.  To do anything less would be down right uncivil.  A cowboy was honor bound to do the right thing, even when the odds were stacked against him.  The test of a cowboy’s honor was in how much he would risk to keep it untarnished.  Standing up for the little guy, or just for the principles in which he believes are stock and trade for a cowboy.

Modern application of the code:  Every boy growing up dreams of being a hero, and standing up for truth and justice, but somewhere along the way we lose the action that goes along with the ideal.  Have you ever witnessed an accident where everybody is just standing around and nobody called 911?  Dozens of observers all assumed somebody else was doing it, and it didn’t happen.  Has the phrase “somebody should do something about that” ever crossed your mind?  Take personal responsibility for your life and the lives of others around you.  Do not merely strive to not be a part of the problem but actively seek to be a part of the solution, wherever you find yourself.  Help your neighbors with their groceries, do good deeds, leave the campsite cleaner than when you got there.  Make a positive impact on every life you touch.

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. ~ Galatians 6:9

Be tough, but fair

The toughness of a cowboy is not to be disputed.  They are depicted as hard men, tough as nail in all modern media both print and on screen.  They had to be to survive hard times, hard lands, and the many aspects of their job that wanted to kill them; beasts, bandits, Indians, and the like.  The cowboys toughness, while legendary, was also tempered by his fairness.  Cowboys would share their last scraps of food with a stranger before turning them away, and would not cheat in business dealings.  Every cowboy had a turn at being down on his luck and in need of assistance from someone, and they in turn would not fail to help someone in need.

Modern application of the code:  The golden rule used to be a way of life, but has been regulated to nothing more than a Sunday School teaching for suckers.  It needs to be the very core of your moral compass if you truly want to be known as fair in your dealings.  It is simple to apply.  In any situation you can simply ask yourself “How would I want to be treated?” and this should provide you an excellent guide to what is a fair deal.  This can be applied to dealing with customers, business partners, spouses, children and strangers alike.  If you truly treat others the way you want to be treated yourself, you will find that you strike a “square deal” much more easily.

“So in everything, do unto others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” ~ Matthew 7:12

When you make a promise, keep it

Cowboys come from a time when a handshake was a binding contract between men, and reneging on a debt was unheard of.  No man would ride with a cowboy that couldn’t be trusted.  They came from a time when honor was a key to life, and failing to keep your word was akin to lying and cheating, both hangable offences on the open range.  If a cowboy said he’d do a thing, then there was no question that he would.

Modern application of the code:  The code is simple, only make promises that you can and will keep.  The trick is not in keeping promises, but in taking more care with what you promise.  Do not promise things that are out of your control.  This applies especially to your children, and spouse, but equally so to business partners.  Only make promises that you can keep, and then be sure to keep them.  We need to turn away from our legalistic, 1,000 page binding contracts and get back to a time when men would shake hands and mean it.

But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your “No,’ ‘No.’ ~ Matthew 5:37

Ride for the brand

Once a cowboy signed on with an outfit, he was obliged to put its needs before his own.  Loyalty was forged quickly among men that needed each other for survival on the open range.  This loyalty was not a blind unquestioning allegiance to the boss simply because he was the one that paid them, but was given only if deserved and returned.

Modern application of the code:  Be loyal to your outfit.  If you hire on at a job, do not badmouth them on facebook.  If they are not worthy of your loyalty, find another place to earn your keep.  Be loyal to your family.  So many men today speak poorly of their wives and complain about their kids with their friends.  If you cannot say good things about them, then keep your mouth shut.  You would punch another man for disrespecting your wife, you should hold yourself to an equally high standard.

One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. ~ Proverbs 18:24

Talk less and say more

Cowboys are often viewed as men of little words, the strong silent type.  It might have been the isolation of his work, or the grandeur of a life in open places beneath a big sky that rendered small talk useless, but cowboys were doers, not talkers.  Cowboys often said what needed to be said,  and they were straight to the point about it.  They understood the importance of words and used them with great care.  Many cowboys were uneducated and thus not bound by the rules of grammar or polite discourse, but instead pulled their words from their experience, giving them powerful imagery and a blunt directness in their conversations.

Modern application of the code:  If something you said can be interpreted in more than one way, you didn’t say it clearly enough.  Say what you mean, avoid ambiguity, and mean what you say.  If you find yourself talking more than listening in any conversation, you need to practice this principle more.

When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise. ~ Proverbs 10:19

Remember that some things aren’t for sale

Often the best things in life are not things, and there are things that money cannot and should not buy.  Many of the previous aspects of the code are things a cowboys would not compromise for money; honor, integrity, pride, or his word.  Many a cowboy lost everything of material value in order to keep a firm grip on the things that truly mattered to them.

Modern application of the code: If you have to sell your principals as part of a deal, you made a very bad bargain.  Know what you believe in, then stand up for those things.  Like the mastercard commercials often tell us, there are some things that that money can’t buy.  Figure out what matters to you more than money, then be sure not to sell them.

The righteous who walks in his integrity – blessed are his children after him!  Even a child makes himself known by his acts, by whether his conduct is pure and upright. ~ Proverbs 20:7,11

Know where to draw the line

A cowboy knew his principles and would not cross them.  He knew where to draw the line.  This aspect of the code is simply a reminder that there is a code, and that it matters.

Modern application of the code:
If you have a code, be it the Code of the West or something of your own creation, live by it.  Draw the hard line, and do not cross it.

Whoever walks in integrity will be delivered, but he who is crooked in his ways will suddenly fall. ~ Proverbs 28:18

Further study can be done with the excellent books by James P. Owen titled Cowboy Ethics, Cowboy Wisdom, and Cowboy Values. They are excellent resources, can each be read in a short sitting, and have amazing photography. They make great conversation starters if left on a coffee table, and I have referenced them more than a few times over the years.

Surviving Undulation – Recognizing Peaks and Valleys

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines undulation in these simple terms, a rising and falling in waves.  Undulation occurs in many mediums, including life itself.  Your moods, feelings, spirituality, job satisfaction, and for some, even the desire to remain living rises and falls in peaks and valleys, high points and low points, crests and troughs.  The trick to surviving the crests and troughs of life’s undulations comes simply from recognizing them for what they are, crests and troughs.

If you haven’t read The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, you should.  The story takes the form of a series of letters from a senior demon, Screwtape, to his nephew, a junior “tempter” named Wormwood, so as to advise him on methods of securing the damnation of a British man, known only as “the Patient”.  The 8th letter from Screwtape covers the Law of Undulation.

VIII
MY DEAR WORMWOOD,

So you “have great hopes that the patient’s religious phase is dying away”, have you? I  always thought the Training College had gone to pieces since they put old Slubgob at the head of it, and now I am sure. Has no one ever told you about the law of Undulation?

Humans are amphibians—half spirit and half animal. (The Enemy’s determination to produce such a revolting hybrid was one of the things that determined Our Father to withdraw his support from Him.) As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time. This means that while their spirit can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for to be in time means to change. Their nearest approach to constancy, therefore, is undulation—the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks. If you had watched your patient carefully you would have seen this undulation in every department of his life—his interest in his work, his affection for his friends, his physical appetites, all go up and down. As long as he lives on earth periods of emotional and bodily richness and liveliness will alternate with periods of numbness and poverty. The dryness and dullness through which your patient is now going are not, as you fondly suppose, your workmanship; they are merely a natural phenomenon which will do us no good unless you make a good use of it. To decide what the best use of it is, you must ask what use the Enemy wants to make of it, and then do the opposite. Now it may surprise you to learn that in His efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favorites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else. The reason is this. To us a human is primarily good; our aim is the absorption of its will into ours, the increase of our own area of self-hood at its expense. But the obedience which the Enemy demands of men is quite a different thing. One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for men, and His service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth. He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself—creatures, whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to his. We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons. We want to suck in, He wants to give out. We are empty and would be filled; He is full and flows over. Our war aim is a world in which Our Father Below has drawn all other beings into himself: the Enemy wants a world full of beings united to Him but still distinct. And that is where the troughs come in. You must have often wondered why the Enemy does not make more use of His power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree He chooses and at any moment. But you now see that the Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of His scheme forbids Him to use. Merely to over-ride a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo. For His ignoble idea is to eat the cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with Him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them, will not serve. He is prepared to do a little overriding at the beginning. He will set them off with communications of His presence which, though faint, seem great to them, with emotional sweetness, and easy conquest over temptation. But He never allows this state of affairs to last long. Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs—to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. We can drag our patients along by continual tempting, because we design them only for the table, and the more their will is interfered with the better. He cannot “tempt” to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is leased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger, than when a human, no longer desiring, but intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys. But of course the troughs afford opportunities to our side also. Next week I will give you some hints on how to exploit them.

Your affectionate uncle

Screwtape

So there you have it.  Recognize that your high points and low points are transient, like all things in this life and you can enjoy the good times and endure the bad.  Do you have a challenging boss?  This too shall pass.  Do you own a troublesome puppy?  This too shall pass.  Does your teenager know everything and has no problem telling you how stupid and old you are?  This too shall pass.  If you plan for the worst (valleys) and hope for the best (peaks) then life will usually land somewhere in the middle.

If you are riding high on a mountain peak, recognize it for what it is, so you don’t get all bummed out and dejected when it doesn’t last.  Men take it especially hard when they crash off the top of a mountain. Have you ever gone to a men’s conference where you were all on fire about something, only to have reality hit you hard in the guts when you got home? If you can accept that the almighty creator of the universe really does have a plan for you, both riding high and lying low, it can make this whole undulating roller coaster much more fun to ride.

If you’ve managed to read this far, I’ll leave you with two inspirational verses to chew on, one for peaks and one for valleys.  I’ll leave it to you to decide which one is appropriate to your current state of mind.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. ~ Jeremiah 29:11

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. ~ James 1:2-3

Bastions of Manliness in Baltimore

construction

I recently got the opportunity to travel to Baltimore for the first time.  I don’t often make it to the east coast, so I had a good time exploring a new city.  During my stay there I discovered a few fantastic little gems being operated by some amazing gentlemen.  These men (and women) stood out from their east coast brethren for their attitudes of service, something I found altogether lacking for the majority of my east coast experience.

As I was wandering around the harbor area I noticed that the local police were wearing some outstanding Stetson hats.  I inquired about them and they directed me toward a little shopping mall in which lay my first gem of gentlemanliness.  The charming little store was called Hats in the Belfry, which immediately drew a smile from me.  I’ve always been a sucker for clever names.  Upon entering I was greeted by an entire store full of hats, floor to ceiling.  They had everything a gentleman looking for a hat could want; top hats, fedoras, pork pies, bowlers, women’s hats, and even a few tasteful ball caps.  I was also greeted by a jovial gentleman named Keith.  He was a pleasure to talk to and his knowledge of hats must have rivaled the hatters of olden times.  After a lengthy discussion with him, I selected a well crafted black fedora with a much broader brim than my ultra stingy.  The store was a delightful surprise, nestled in amongst the more traditional tourist traps associated with waterfront malls.  If you ever find yourself near one of these stores, they are worth a look.  I saw hats ranging from the low twenties well into the low hundreds.  During my wide ranging conversations with Keith he recommended my second destination, the Quinntessential Gentleman.  Yes, they spell it with two n’s.  Maybe it’s an east coast thing.

On my way to check out the Quinntessential Gentleman, I found a second gem; the JoS. A. Bank clothing store.  I know they have them all over the country, but this one was staffed by actual gentlemen.  I wasn’t looking for anything in the way of upscale clothing, but a book in the window caught my eye in passing.  I was only in the store for a few minutes, but while I was there I watched the employees interact with a few customers and each other and I found myself to be quite impressed.  These were true gentlemen.  The deference they showed everybody was outclassed only by the clothing in the store.   I only noticed the price tag on one item, and I think I could have replaced about a quarter of my current wardrobe at the same cost, but the book I purchased was quite reasonable.  Everything in the store looked like it was hand spun out of the finest materials by clothing artisans.  It probably wasn’t but I did get that impression.  During my conversations with a well dressed, immaculately groomed gentleman named Michael, he also recommended the Quinntessential Gentleman.  Book in hand, I exited the JoS. A. Bank clothing store and continued on my way.

Much like Hats in the Belfry, I found the Quinntessential Gentleman nestled away.  It sits in the base of a large structure that if memory serves was a hotel of some sort.  I was immediately impressed with its sense of style.  It had an old school look about it, like somebody took an old black and white photo of a barber shop and added some modern colors to it, but left the rest completely unaltered.  The olden charms were in every corner, hanging from every wall, and heard in every word spoken within the walls of this shop.  They offered products from old style shave kits to magnetic collar stays and services from shaves to haircuts.  This was not just a place to come and get trimmed, it was a place to hang out and enjoy a conversation over a game of chess or pool.  I mean that literally, there is a chess board and pool table in the upstairs lounge.  Appointments are recommended for most services, but I was in luck that somebody had just canceled so they were able to fit me in for a quick trim.

Manning the desk was Karey. She was a delight to talk to, alternating between asking questions and providing local insights. We did share one particular thing in common.  When she tells people that she runs a gentleman’s shop, she gets the same reaction I get when I tell people I run a gentleman’s website; the wrong one.  She was able to squeeze me in thanks to the aforementioned cancellation, so my total time to wait was about to minutes.

I treated myself to a haircut.  The attention to detail provided will rank this amongst my top five haircuts of all time.  A hot lather and straight razor to finish the neck line ears and sideburns really made it the most precise trim I’ve ever experienced.  It would not have surprised me even a little bit if my executive barber, Jacquie, pulled out a ruler.  She was seriously that meticulous about the length of each hair she touched. Jacquie kept up a running commentary and conversation that really added to the experience.  She was as gifted a conversationalist as she was a barber.

Should you find yourself in the harbor area of Baltimore, these three places should definitely be on your itinerary.  Tell them Godly Gentleman sent you.  Who knows, if enough people do they might send me a nice hat or shaving kit.  All kickback kidding aside, I highly recommend these places for their old time charm, stand out style, and their high quality employees that genuinely care about the customers.

Faith Defined

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Jason Calhon, a good friend whom I enjoy sparring, both with martial arts and with words.

“Faith is an irrational belief in something that is impossible.”
–Emily Deschanel as Temperance Brennan, Fox Television series Bones

I rarely actually hear statements so direct as the one above, but it seems I often hear faith dismissed as something only the ignorant or foolish would possess. The word itself conjures up images of God, churches, and religious rituals of all kinds. Let us not forget the dozens of wars fought and the millions of people killed over the centuries by “faithful” people.
It amazes me to no end that people use this word constantly, as something to be cherished or held in contempt, without any clue at all what the word actually means. As I began to write this article, I wasn’t even sure I could make it long enough to be worth reading, for the meaning of the word “faith” is actually quite simple.

Trust.

That’s it. It’s no more complicated than that. The word “faith” may carry religious or spiritual connotations or imply belief in unknowable things, but that is not its true meaning. It simply means trust, or belief.

Once that is understood, then what many people do not seem to realize becomes obvious. Faith itself means nothing. Faith is not an end in itself, it must have an object, and even more importantly, that object must be able to provide the need of the faith. If I need to get to work in the morning, I have to trust my car to be able to get me there. If I wish to obtain eternal life, I have to trust one who is actually able to provide eternal life.

If I didn’t trust my car, I would get another one. If I didn’t trust my God, I would get another one.

With a parallel like that, it also becomes obvious that faith need not be blind. It need not be immune to scrutiny or criticism. Faith can be based on knowledge. It can be based on experience, or research, and can be carefully examined to make certain that the object of your faith is able to provide what you need. My morning ride to work may not matter much, so it doesn’t really matter if my faith in the car is misplaced. My road to eternity matters a great deal, so I’d better make very certain that my faith in God is well placed. To steal the quote, “Eternity is a long time to be wrong.”

Billions of people around the world claim to have faith in God in some way or another. Many of them say this simply because they go into a fancy building once or twice a week. This is habit, not faith. Others have very real faith, held with conviction that can lead them to martyrdom or drive them to murder. You can’t deny the reality of that kind of faith, but again, you must examine its object. Only a god who is real deserves your faith.

So in whom do I trust? I trust Jesus Christ, the real Son of the real God. This Jesus is the one who lived a perfect life, and allowed himself to be crucified two thousand years ago to pay the price for my sins and purchase my entrance into the presence of God. This Jesus is the one who got up and walked out of his tomb after being dead for three days. This Jesus is the one who interacted with his followers for over a month after his death and resurrection, before himself going up into heaven.

If I’m wrong about Him, I’m in just as much trouble as anyone else. So how can I know?

Libraries, almost, have been written on the reliability of the Christian Bible and the accuracy of its records. We know the Bible has been reliably preserved over the centuries quite simply because we have copies of the Bible which are almost as old as the events they claim to record, and they are the same as the Bibles we have today. We have found mountains of archaeological evidence to corroborate what the Bible says. The physical sciences are also finding ways to verify what the Bible has to say about the universe.

I do not wish to minimize the importance of the written Word, but there is another reason I believe.

I know the Lord. I have met him, spoken to Him, and He to me. I’m not talking about booming voices from the sky or strange other-worldly experiences, but experiences both more subtle and more clear to me, though I doubt I could explain them to one who has not experienced the same.

I know the LORD, and He has earned my trust.

How To Give An Impressive Handshake

Handshake

There are hundreds of situations that will require you to introduce, be introduced, and greet other people with a handshake.  In order to have a truly impressive handshake you must understand it’s purpose.  While the exact origin of the handshake is unknown, it is generally accepted in western literature that handshakes were developed as a greeting in order to demonstrate that you were not concealing a weapon in your hand.  The handshake was a gesture of good will toward another person indicating that you meant them no harm.  A modern handshake should similarly convey some of that good will by indicating your openness toward the other person.

Handshakes really come down to two things, timing and technique.  We’ll look at technique first. Your handshake can make a very real impression about your character.  Are you Ivan the KnuckleKrusher, Wussy McWimperson, or Clingy von Neverletyougo?  You are being judged by your handshake, so make sure it’s a good one.

Technique

  • Make sure your hand is firm, nobody likes shaking hands with limp overcooked pasta.
  • While firm is good, hand crushing is not.  Nobody is impressed with your hand strength.
  • Hold their hand for 2-3 seconds.  Less will seem like you are uncomfortable and trying to escape, more and they will be uncomfortable and have to try to escape.
  • A few up down shakes will do, you are not trying to inflate a bicycle tire or bring up water from a mile deep well with a hand pump.
  • If you hands are sweaty, wipe them on your pants nonchalantly first.  If you are prone to sweaty hands, keep them out of your pockets in situations where greetings are immanent.
  • If your hands are cold, keep them in your pocket to warm them up.
  • Make sure your hands are clean.  You want them to remember you, not your lunch.

There is your basic technique and for the most part people don’t have too much trouble here.  It is the timing that can cause the greatest embarrassment in the form of an extended, unnoticed hand.  Many people try to avoid giving handshakes because they are afraid of being left hanging.  The most important thing you can do to avoid this is to make sure you have eye contact with the person who’s hand you want to shake prior to extending your hand.

Timing

  • Don’t extend your hand until you have the other persons attention.  If they are distracted or in a conversation, just wait instead of interrupting.
  • Handshakes should be face to face, don’t approach from the side with you hand extended because it’s difficult for them to see you.
  • Greet the person audibly first, to ensure you are the focus of their attention.
  • If your hand is in the center first, wait for them to fully arrive so you don’t end up shaking their fingers instead of their hand.
  • If you are approaching their extended hand, extend your hand at a slight angle instead of sliding your fingers past theirs, this will prevent them from gripping too early and getting only fingers.

Knowing how and when and for how long to extend your hand takes some practice, and like driving it’s not just about you.  You have to anticipate the other person and do everything in your power to make sure they know where you and and what you’re doing.  Making eye contact and verbally greeting them goes a long way towards making your handshake a successful event.

Other Considerations

  • Don’t pull them close to you when shaking hands, this violates personal space and can trigger a fight-or-flight response in some people.
  • Don’t overextend your reach, go to them to shake hands
  • Attitude matters, be warm, inviting, friendly, and remember to smile
  • Relax, don’t hold your breath while shaking hands
  • Don’t grab their hand with your other hand, or rub their hand, or pat their back.
  • No awkward handshake/hug combos, either commit to the hug, or the handshake, but not both.
  • Do not shake hands if you are sick.  You do not need to apologize, simply hold your hand up in a stop gesture and say “I’d love to shake your hand, but I’m recovering from a cold and don’t want to risk it.”  The other party will not be offended.

Feminine Considerations

Be mindful of the fairer sex and always be gentle with their hands.  Reduce you hand pressure by 50% or more, even if the woman is engaging in a solid handshake with you.  It is possible to be firm and still gentle.  Always release her hand in a timely manner so she doesn’t have to pull away.  Do NOT rub her hand or comment on it’s features, texture, softness, nail color, or anything else.  The handshake turned into a hand kiss maneuver should only be attempted by the supremely confident gentleman in the rarest of circumstances.  If you have any doubts as to what appropriate circumstances are, then the answer is no, don’t kiss her hand.

Cultural Considerations

Be cognizant of cultural differences in customs, rituals and greetings.  This applies mainly to those who travel frequently, but it is worth noting that not all people shake hands the same way.  Here are some of the many handshake variations found in our very diverse world.

  • In Japan it is normal to shake hands frequently. Sometimes a bow is included or substituted.
  • In Europe you shake hands whenever you meet someone even if you know them well.
  • Russians tend to shake hands frequently but never while wearing gloves.
  • A strong handshake and good grip are appreciated in South Africa.
  • A vigorous, pumping handshake is normal for the Chinese.
  • Men in Arabian cultures encourage a long and limp handshake along with a specific verbal greeting.
  • People in Panama greet each other with eye contact combined with shaking hands.
  • The French always shake hands in business meetings but all other greetings involve kissing the cheeks.
  • In Kuwait shaking hands is only used for male strangers who meet the first time.  Shaking hands with an unrelated female is considered inappropriate.
  • Residents of India and Pakistan shake hands by grasping your hand in both of their hands and holding your hand briefly.

The Perfect Handshake

Researchers an the University of Manchester in northwest England spent some time working on the perfect handshake problem plaguing our world and discovered a formula for the perfect handshake.

PH = v (e2 + ve2)(d2) + (cg + dr)2 + p{(4<s>2)(4<p>2)}2 + (vi + t + te)2 + {(4<c>2 )(4<du>2)}2

I won’t get into the details here, but will leave it as an exercise for the mathematically inclined to analyze.  Or, if you like pictures, Chevrolet turned the formula into a fantastic info graphic. Click on the image to view it in high resolution. It includes an explanation of the formula.

Finally, like anything in life, practice makes permanent.  Ask a brother, sister, friend, co-worker, parent, or somebody else you are comfortable with to practice with you for a few minutes and provide feedback.  Now go make a good impression with an impressive gentlemanly handshake.

Distracted Dad

Father ignoring child

I got to go to my first Daddy-Daughter dance last week.  My eldest daughter and I had a wonderful time on our date and dancing the night away.  We ordered what may possibly be the largest ice cream Sunday ever made.  I was not expecting the ‘feed a large family’ size of it.  We had a great time trying to devour it.  We failed.  Overall I had a wonderful time dancing and having fun with my daughter and making her feel special.

While I was at the dance I noticed a lot of disengaged fathers standing on the sidelines playing with their phones, not actively participating in any activities with their daughters.  It made me kind of sad, but one dad takes the cake as my new poster child for disinterested daddy of the year.

This guy was sitting on the side with a freaking laptop. This was not a cute little pocket PC kind of thing, but a full on big sized 17 incher.  His ‘I don’t want to be here’ demeanor was so blatant I actually stopped mid-stride and stared at him for a moment.  Perhaps I’m judging to easily, and he was a member of the elite Air Force Cyber Command and he was single-handedly saving the good old USofA from a legion of evil hackers.  Maybe he was remotely monitoring a sensitive science experiment that would consume the region in a black hole if any of the variables went outside the parameters.  I don’t know for sure, but I’d bet you dollars to donuts he was playing Angry Birds.

No matter what he was doing, I do know one thing for sure.  Somewhere in that sea of princesses was a sad little girl, wishing her daddy would dance with her.

Don’t be the kind of dad that plays with his phone at the diner table.  The world WILL NOT end if you don’t respond to emails in nanoseconds.  If you don’t look at your children when they are talking to you, you will receive the same treatment from them when they grow into teenagers.  “Yea yea, whatever dad, can’t you see I’m on the phone?”

Would you lay down your life for your daughter?  Of course you would.  Why then, can you not lay down your cell phone, or laptop, or pager, or e-reader for her?

Don’t be the guy who shows up at a daddy-daughter dance with a laptop.

What is the Purpose of a Necktie?

Necktie

At a recent formal event, well formal for the south west anyway, I was asked if neckties have ever served a function other than decoration.  We pondered, postulated, and pontificated for a while and the best we could come up with was that neckties are used to hide buttons.  I was unsatisfied with that answer and decided to do some research.  It turns out neckties have a much longer history than I had imagined, and they have never served a function other than decoration. Neckties are ancient bling, nothing more.  They do have an interesting history, so if you have the time, keep reading.

The modern necktie is said to have originated in Croatia in the early 1600’s as a simple piece of fabric tied about the neck, called a cravat.  This fashion trend was picked up by the Parisians during the thirty years war and delivered to Europe where neck fabrics became all the rage, culminating in those poofy lacy things we see in Victorian art.

The earliest evidence of neckties predates the Thirty Years War by some 1800 years.  China’s first emperor, Shih Huang Ti, was buried in 210 B.C. and he wanted to take his army with him to protect himself in the afterlife.  His advisers convinced him to take life size replicas instead of slaughtering the army, so 7,5000 life size terracotta replicas of the famed Chinese army were created and buried with him.  There are entire legions of officers, archers, horsemen, and soldiers all carved in exquisite detail.  Each figure varies in details like hair, armor, facial expression and weaponry, but one trait is common amongst them; a necktie.  Each warrior is carved with a pieceof cloth tied around his neck.  There is a certain amount of mystery about this, because other historical records make no mention of the Chinese army wearing neckties.  Some historians believe that it is an honor bestowed on his soldiers by Shih Huang Ti, because silk cloths were a great luxury at the time.

Another early example of neckties that predate the ‘modern necktie’ of Croatia can be found on Trajan’s column in Rome.  It’s a decoration celebrating the Roman emperor Trajan’s victory in the Dacian Wars and was erected in 113 A.D..  There are 2,500 figured carved into this column and include people wearing three different styles of necktie, including one that looks much like the cowboy bandanna worn by early American settlers.

The modern necktie traces it’s history back to the early 1630’s when a large number of Croatian mercenaries came to Paris in support of King Louis XIV and Cardinal Richelieu of Three Musketeers fame.  The french were instantly enamored by their outfits because of the unusual scarves tied about their necks, ranging from coarse material for the common soldier to fine silk for officers.  They called these scarves cravats, though the origin of the word is up for debate.  The most widely held opinion is that it is a corruption of “Croat.”  One thing is certain, the military and courtiers immediately began copying the Croatians style.

Over the next 10 years, cravats spread across Europe and into the English colonies as well.  Cravats styles were limited only be the imagination, including tasseled strings, scarves, bows of ribbon, lace, embroidered linen and ruffled collars.  This trend continued with a variety of style changes including the steinkirk, a loosely wrapped scarf tie worn with dangling ends tucked or pinned to the breast, the stock, a ridged military neck piece worn tight around the neck to increase blood flow to the head, the bandanna, a square cloth tied in the back, and the bolo, a piece of string held closed by a decorative component worn close about the neck.

At the height of their popularity in the early 18th century, there were dozens of acceptable ties worn for high fashion on a variety of materials.  Men from every walk of life and every tier of society included some form of neck covering in their daily dress.  Mr. H. Le Blanc Esq. wrote a book in 1828 titled The Art of Tying the Cravat which included 16 lessons on tying 32 varieties of cravats.  It also contained etiquette like this: “The grossest insult that can be offered to a man is to seize him by the cravat; in this place blood only can wash out the stain upon the honor of either party.”

The necktie as we know it today was introduced during the industrial revolution, and has kept it’s basic three piece tapered construction throughout many style changes.  Modern tie variants include the 4 inch fat tie, the 1 inch skinny tie, the striped Ivy League tie and the bold colors of the corporate power tie. Whether you regard you necktie as the height of fashion, or a small noose, know that it has stood for conformity, individuality, and vanity through the ages, but never functionality.  And remember to never touch another man’s tie.

I leave you with this fantastic quote from famed fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, “If a person steps on your cravat, you are to blame because you were kneeling.”  Ponder that as you don your corporate power tie, punk skinny tie, cowboy bandanna, western bolo tie, or whatever else you choose to wear around your neck.