Letters To a Young Gentleman: Honor People With Your Shoes
My Dear Sons,
I know I’m regularly telling you to get your shoes off the middle of the floor. Or out of the back yard. Or off of our bed. I hope you don’t think we’re “anti-shoes”. I especially hope we’re not badgering and discouraging you by our insistence about something that’s obviously not the end of the world.
But of course being a young gentleman is not about simply avoiding world-ending mistakes. It’s about learning how to be yourself without forcing others to be someone other than themselves. And, believe it or not, shoes, and what you do with them, are a daily opportunity to practice emerging gentlemanliness.
WHERE YOU TREAD WITH YOUR SHOES COUNTS FOR GENTLEMANLINESS
When you go into someone else’s home, they have opened up to you their most personal space. They may have spent time picking up before your arrival to present their home to you as a place where you feel welcome and comfortable.
The first thing you can do to express your gratitude for their hospitality is to, undramatically, courteously, ask them
“Would it be best for me to remove my shoes?”
Say it in a way that makes them feel like it’s absolutely no big deal whatsoever if they say “yes, that would be kind of you.” You’re not there to pass judgment on their ‘house rules’. You’re there to reciprocate their gesture of hospitality with your own gesture of submission to their customs.
Even if you just came from the shoe store with new sneakers or just had your penny loafers re-soled and shined by the cobbler, make this gentlemanly gesture.
WHICH SHOES YOU WEAR COUNTS FOR GENTLEMANLINESS
Someone once said “If you want to know if someone is well-dressed, look at their shoes.”
Young men: we don’t put our clothes and shoes on to “impress”. We put them on to set others at ease through our situational appropriateness.
One time, I walked into a very traditional, downtown gothic revival church in the South with Birkenstock sandals on. This was a mistake, because I was thinking about my own comfort, and the expression of my own personality. I wasn’t thinking of the congregation as my host, and myself as a guest.
I’ve also showed up to sporting events in wingtip shoes, which probably also gave the community assembled there the sense that I didn’t care about the context. Instead, I probably made them feel like I was trying to assert my feigned superiority over them. I should have slipped on my Birkenstock sandals.
HONOR PEOPLE WITH YOUR SHOES
The key, young men, to a gentlemanly life, is to take every opportunity and occasion to honor others with your demeanor, attitude, speech and gestures. All the “PUT YOUR SHOES WHERE THEY BELONG!” grief that we’re giving you now, if we admit it, is really just our present frustration with tripping over your tennis shoes for the 392,405,301st time.
Yet, we can all learn to look at these situations as exercises in others-centered gestures of gentlemanliness. Forgive us for when we’ve been merely exasperated. And we’ll all work to gently remind one another of how we might honor those who are hosting us, not least with the things we do with our shoes.
Your Loving Father,