CNN ‘modern day hero’ Zach Hunter says chivalry is not dead

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CNN "modern day hero" Zach Hunter is calling people of faith to discover the lost art of chivalry.

CNN "modern day hero" Zach Hunter is calling people of faith to discover the lost art of chivalry.

CNN "modern day hero" Zach Hunter is calling people of faith to discover the lost art of chivalry.

CNN “modern day hero” Zach Hunter calls people of faith to lives of justice, civility, and integrity. 

Zach Hunter was named a “modern day hero” by CNN as a teenager. At 21, he’s calling people of faith to discover the lost art of chivalry.

Hunter’s first three book addressed modern day slavery, compassion and activism, but his recent one sounds less modern and more ancient: Chivalry: The Quest for a Personal Code of Honor in an Unjust World. In it, Hunter invites readers who are already passionate about issues of justice to develop a personal code of civility and integrity. Here, we discuss what chivalry is, why young people today have a hard time living it, and how we can recover it.

JM: Do young men and women in your generation even know what chivalry is? Is it a man opening a door for a woman? What’s your definition?

ZH: I think a lot of people have this concept that chivalry is a bunch of outmoded rules for romantic relationships. My definition of chivalry is not gender-specific or male-dominated–though I understand the historical context. I believe anyone can choose to be chivalrous. It’s not about rules or regulations; it’s about internal transformation. Chivalry is a lifestyle of civility and kindness. None of us is perfect, but I think that we can transcend our selfishness to a certain extent and live in a counter-cultural manner. I don’t have this figured out, but that’s a big part of my thinking on chivalry–it is a journey–I will likely be learning my whole life how to be kinder, have more integrity, and act with civility in difficult situations.

JM: In Chivalry, you draw from principles in something called the “knight’s code.” Say some more about this, for those who aren’t familiar.

Cover courtesy of Tyndale House Publishers

Cover courtesy of Tyndale House Publishers

ZH: I’ve always loved stories about knights, and I’ve always wondered about the concept of chivalry, as our culture seems to have a very specific definition of it. So, I did some research and came across historical documents that a researcher had transcribed. One document of interest was titled “Rules for Royal Courtship,” the other was titled something like, “The Code of the Knights.” It’s the latter that I drew from, adapted to more colloquial, modern English with contemporary application and went through the process of comparing my life to my interpretation of these principles. I discovered that my life fell far short of being chivalrous. That’s where the book came from. There’s a lot of my blood on the pages.

JM: Do you think that “self-control” and “selflessness” are hard sells for young adults today? What motivates someone to implement these?

ZH: It’s really difficult, actually. To practice and to “preach.” The root of a deficit in either is in pride, and all of us are prideful or selfish. But one of the blocks that I had against self-control, specifically, was that I thought self-control was about what I wasn’t allowed to do. I, like many others in my generation, are tired of being told what not to do. Here’s the thing: self-control is not about what you shouldn’t do. It is about what you should do. You should exercise restraint. You should think before you act.

But instead of focusing on how we should have self-control, many of the institutions that we are a part of (churches, schools, etc.) focus on what not to do. I think that’s the wrong emphasis. Self-control is its own action, not merely an avoidance of other actions. It seems counterintuitive to focus on what we don’t want to do, rather than concentrating on the things we should be doing. Baseball players focus on making contact with the ball—not striking out.

JM: If chivalry is not rescuing a fair maiden from a dragon, can you describe what it is to be what you describe as “a man or woman of honor” today?

ZH: I’m not intending to redefine history – but I am using an historical term to help frame a discussion about some important issues for this generation. In that light – the character of a man or woman of honor today is summed up pretty well in the code itself-

  1. I Will Not Go on This Journey Alone.
  2. I Will Never Attack from Behind.
  3. I Will Practice Self-Control and Selflessness.
  4. I Will Respect Life and Freedom.
  5. I Will Fight Only for the Sake of Those Who Are Unable to Defend Themselves, or in the Defense of Justice.
  6. I Will Honor Truth and Always Keep My Promises.
  7. I Will Fear No Evil.
  8. I Will Always Follow the Law Unless It Goes against What Is Moral and Good.
  9. I Will Live and Die with Honor.
  10. I Will Never Abandon My Quest.

JM: Zach, you haven’t abandoned your passion for justice. And you mention it frequently in this book. But what’s the connection between social justice and justice in one’s own personal life?

ZH: The same compassion that motivates us to help people halfway around the world and the marginalized in our own communities should also be extended to those that are closest to us. Treating our friends, family, and significant other’s with dignity and love can actually be harder than working on social justice projects when we’re around these people all the time, being annoyed by them and taking them for granted. The connection should be strong and personal – and for people of faith it should be a hallmark. If our actions in the arena of social justice stem from our character, or inner self, our spiritual convictions, then our personal lives–the way we are around those in our closest circles–should be consistently compassionate, kind and civil. They should be inseparable.

JM: One of the principles you mention is “never attack from behind.” How might that help to shape and advance some of the larger conversations happening in our culture?

ZH: “Never attacking from behind” is really applicable to my generation. We are steeped in social media and texting, making speedy, flippant communication much easier.  We don’t have to wait to see someone face-to-face–or wait for someone to get off the corded phone line so we can make a call. There is no time requirement that allows some natural self-editing. Teenagers and twenty-something’s (and many “older/wiser” people) will often vomit their feelings about close acquaintances with little discretion. This isn’t honorable. Backstabbing, gossiping, “calling people out” publically without trying to deal with it first in private. These are more literal, modern applications of saying “I will never attack from behind.”

But there’s more to it.

Something crucial to understanding this principle of civility is acknowledging that we should not attack people. Period. We do not go on the offensive against people. If we must fight, we can engage principles and ideas, and even the feelings behind them, but in a debate, we should fight the concepts we disagree with. People with worldviews or opinions that contrast starkly with our own are not our enemies. This is a principle that we can’t afford to forget. There is so much said, especially by people who say they share my faith (Christianity) that sounds like hatred of people. We see this in issues that we perceive as political (I think there are very few issues that are innately political). What if, in debates between people who hold to more traditional or progressive views of marriage, neither side resorted to personal slurs or accusations? How much more would people feel understood and loved? Understanding doesn’t mean agreement – but it does allow for civil and honorable relationships.