In England, in the old days, people were very class conscious, and they were openly classist, unlike today when it's cool to be poor (if you went back in time and played "Common People" by Pulp to a typical eighteenth century gentlemen, they probably wouldn't get it). In those days, being rich was the cool thing, and people weren't afraid to brag about pure bloodlines and noble lineages and things like that. To be a man of honor also meant you came from a good family, and you might feel motivated to prove your honor by acting "hot-blooded" which meant going around starting fights, just to prove you were the kind of man who does. Extreme sensitivity was expected from the oldest noblest gentlemen--- the kind whose family had been in the King's service for years, fighting as knights---as opposed to the nouveau riche types whose titles had only recently been given.

But it wasn't all about egos and pride. There also could be very real consequences for losing face. In the old days, they didn't have credit scores, and people were constantly borrowing money from each other. Gentlemen were often land-rich but pocket poor, so it was really important to keep people believing you were somebody to be trusted. If somebody called your honor into question, you could be cut off from lenders, and have no way to gallivant around the Continent, or pay for prostitutes, and food.

Question for discussion:

Sometimes I'll be in a subway and there'll be these teenagers just screaming and throwing things and acting deliberately obnoxious. If I'm in a bad mood I really want to say something, but I feel like it won't really accomplish anything and also I'm sort of intimidated by teenagers in groups. In the end, I always end up doing nothing, but then feeling bad afterwards, like I'm a coward, even though I don't really think I'd ever be able to engage with them in any positive way, and probably would just get in a fight. Do you think it's important for people to speak out against what they perceive as bad social behavior? And don't you just hate overly loud teenagers?

(Nick Jones is the author of THE COWARD.)