CityScope® magazine Southern Gentleman™ – Local Gentlemen and their Values
Despite the many advances of the modern age, men and women still face countless challenges. We struggle to balance a rewarding personal life with a fulfilling professional career. We attempt to live honorably, but it’s easy to get discouraged when we fail. There are inevitable ups and downs as we strive for the brass ring, but it’s that pursuit of excellence that makes a man a gentleman.
While the South’s richly diverse heritage makes it nearly impossible to find a clear-cut definition of a Southern gentleman, it’s evident that he is guided by something larger than himself. In their own words, these five men share how their past experiences and influences have defined the moral compass that still guides them today.
I grew up in the hospitality industry doing my part to help run a family-owned and operated hotel, right here in Tennessee. That experience was tremendously formative in shaping who I am today. The values of hard work, integrity, respect, kindness, humility, service, and the Golden Rule became part of who I am early on and define for me what it means to be a gentleman.
There are no more important roles in my life than those as a husband and a father. By staying true to my core values, striving for excellence, and being a gentleman, I hope to be able to set the same example for my children that my parents set for me.
There always seems to be a very strong woman somewhere closely beside any gentleman. Certainly that was my mother for me. One of my mom’s favorite sayings was, “the good Lord gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason.” She meant for us to listen first and speak second, and I think that’s something that I try to practice every day, with my team, in the community, and with my family. I try to be aware of the shoes the other person is standing in and appreciate their perspective, then speak accordingly. Don’t just speak to be heard; speak to be constructive and have something meaningful to contribute. Those are the values that have been the most important to me and have served me well in my professional career and hopefully personally as well.
One of my favorite high school teachers and coaches, Major Luke Worsham, always said, “Who we are and ever hope to be is a product of our heredity and environment.” Who I am is due to the persistent and caring upbringing that my parents, Joe and Virginia Ferguson, gave me. For as long as I can recall, my dad always reinforced the importance of behaving like a Southern gentleman. He stressed that honor and integrity were paramount and that truth is always the best policy. He demanded that I treat others with respect and in a manner that I desired to be treated.
From my mom, I learned to be considerate of others, to place the needs of others first, and to be in tune with the feelings of others. Her watch words were that if you cannot say something nice, it is probably a good idea to be silent. Perhaps the epitome of being a gentleman to me is found in Galatians 5:22 which states, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” If I can combine my parents’ training with exemplifying the fruit of the Spirit, then perhaps I will indeed be a gentleman. I still have a long way to go.
A gentleman, particularly in today’s South, is not about being refined or rugged. A central tenet of being a gentleman is an ability to look forward and outward, while remaining mindful of culture and context. A gentleman leads a life of purpose, often built on noble and enduring ideals – values like honor, truth, and duty.
I am blessed to have been raised with a faith in God, who calls us to love and serve Him and others. As the headmaster of a school whose mission is building men of character and service, I am reminded of the profound role that my teachers and coaches had in mentoring me and giving me a vision of manhood. Choosing to remain curious and pursue knowledge beyond my immediate surroundings has also proved a powerful influence in my understanding of being a gentleman.
I learned the value of kindness from my mother. My mother placed such an emphasis on kindness that she created the KAP club (Kindness Always Pays). Any time she observed us participating in an unsolicited act of kindness, we would get a point. If we acquired enough points, we would get a prize. It seems a little trivial, but it really worked. It operationalized the value for my siblings and me. I think it created a family in which kindness was the foundation – being kind to all types of people under all types of circumstances. I don’t think there is anything better that can be said of someone than “that was a very kind person.” I try to hold myself to that standard.
My father taught me to be excellent in whatever one does, especially in education. My dad reinforced this through reading. He insisted we read, work hard, make good grades, and earn our place in the world. My dad had hundreds of books, and he created a plan where we would be paid a dime for every book we read. So, once again, on the face of it, it sounds trivial or artificial – the idea that you could make readers out of your children by giving them a dime to read a book. I can make arguments against it, but the fact of the matter is that it worked. I became a person who loved to read. All of my siblings read, and we have achieved in life because of it.