Buy Photo

Californian contributing columnist Ric Llewellyn.

I only remember my grandfather as a grandfather: an older man with gray hair and a gray mustache. He passed away when I was 18.

Now I am old enough to be a grandfather myself and I recently got the chance to meet him as an 18 year old. Not in real life, but thanks to the vast resources of the Internet.

He was active in the Choral Society in high school and was involved in the production of the operetta "The Little Tycoon." He "lettered" in lightweight football, was an associate editor on the yearbook staff and was a member of the senior class song committee. I never knew.

He was also involved in the Hyde Park High School Discussion Club. This boys-only club met weekly for dinner and conversation in what we might call a team-building event. All sorts of topics came before the club. Just imagine how the conversation would go among a group of high school boys... in 1917.

The Discussion Club was an opportunity to get together and foster bonds between the students. But it was also a chance to mentor boys in areas that were important and relevant to them as they prepared to go out into the world.

One of their topics got me thinking. They talked about "how to treat the fellow that asks you to do an unmanly act." Sounds about 100 years old, but the principle is still valid. And the brink of adulthood is a good time to thoughtfully consider the topic.

To talk about "an unmanly act" implies there are "manly" ones. Politeness, morality, steadfastness and integrity are becoming rare in our culture. On the other hand, baseness abounds around us. Distinguishing "unmanly" acts and rejecting them is important to building a strong character.

It is your "fellow" -- your peer -- who is likely to undermine your honorable character. Too often it is a friend who stirs up envy or pettiness. The "fellow" you admire might be the one to cause an ethical dilemma to confront you. Beware of peer pressure!

Subtle influence is one thing but the day will come when a friend "asks you to do" something contrary to the standards you have been taught. Allusions and those "hypothetical situations" that pop up among friends pose a risk to your reputation. But a direct request presents the starkest contrast between the manly and unmanly act. The response to this challenge was the thesis of that evening meeting of the Discussion Club.

Deciding "how to treat" the person who urges you to laziness, duplicity or insolence (unmanly acts) requires you to take action. While the action must be decisive it must also be characterized by the standards of politeness, morality, steadfastness and integrity.

Yes, it was a boys' club but young women are just as susceptible to having their characters assailed by their peers. It is no less important for a girl to protect her character with a sure, measured and considerate rejection of unwomanly behavior.

Politeness, equanimity, respectfulness, integrity, faithfulness and virtue are not old-fashioned. It has just been a long time since we have valued and cultivated these traits in young women and men.

Ric Llewellyn is a community columnist whose work appears in The Californian's Local section every third Thursday. Email him at llewellyn.californian@ These are Llewellyn's opinions, not necessarily those of The Californian.