“As long as we measure others and ourselves by what we have and how we look, life is inevitably a discouraging experience, characterized by greed, envy, and a desire to be someone else.” (Gordon Livingston)
Whether a man is a gentleman has nothing to do with the size of his bank account, or the size of his house, but it does have a lot to do with the way he spends his money. Think of Donald Trump, then do the opposite. A gentleman recognizes the vagaries of fortune, and that the outrages of luck and circumstance may result in a very deserving man with nothing, or an utterly worthless billionaire. A key characteristic of the gentleman is that he is looking beyond appearances, and focusing on substance; he does this in regard to others, and he expects others to do this in regard to him. Judge others as ye shall be judged. A gentleman doesn’t use possessions to try to prove his worth, and anyone who does is surely not a gentleman.
Above all things, a gentleman avoids ostentation, partly because his inherent modesty prevents him from drawing attention to himself. If he is the subject of attention, he hopes it is for his merits and actions, not his possessions. He buys things because they give him pleasure, not to display his wealth to others. He never boasts about his possessions, but tries to listen patiently to others as they boast about theirs. He does not waste money, or throw it around, in part because he knows every dollar has its use, which may be in philanthropic pursuits.
This philosophy seems particularly out of step with our times, as just about every item – from cars, clothes, boats, houses, jewelry, watches, education, etc. seems calculated to impress not the user but the world at large. One of the most impressive things about a gentleman is that is that he does not buy things he doesn’t need, and thus avoids both extravagance and debt. By not being constantly distracted by the demands of caring for his many possessions, he can focus on the things that truly matter: his friends and family, reading a good book, enjoying sublime music, his dog, or just the quiet contemplation of nature. Thoreau didn’t need a bunch of stuff, and neither do you.
As Lyndon Johnson once said, a man can be a show horse or a workhorse, but not both, and gentleman are usually more concerned with working to improve themselves than in showing off.
If you want to see a good example of the absolute opposite of a gentleman, listen to some rap songs, with their self-congratulatory odes to brand names; Kevin Federline, best known as Britney Spear’s ex-husband, may be the best example of this with his song “Privilege”.
A gentleman doesn’t care about brand names, and avoids them if possible. He would no more buy or use a product with prominent logos than he would wear a necklace of $100 bills. If you must spend a lot of money, do it quietly.