Honour is hard to define and is even harder to put into practice. Many today associate honour with murdered girls and blood feuds. We remember women murdered simply for listening to their hearts, refusing the wishes of their clans, and men left dead in attempts to 'defend their honour' after seemingly mild insults. It reminds us all too much of a culture that remains only in today’s street gangs. Or football pitches.
These people, however, did not kill over honour – they were saving 'face'. There is a distinction between the two. 'Face' represents social perceptions of one's prestige; a loss of which would lead to a (perceived) loss of authority. Honour cannot be taken away by an insult. Honour is lost when one believes the insults and seeks revenge, but it can never be taken away. Honour lies within oneself, and is demonstrated in how one responds to others.
Honour was developed in a violent time where society was driven by class and sex distinctions. This code disciplined the individual, permitting him to take a stand on principle, to become a reformer and to take on injustice.
Honour is first and foremost defined as the deferential recognition by word or sign of another's worth. Thus one would show honour to another by giving him his title if he have one, or by raising one's hat to him, or by yielding to him a place of precedence. One thereby gives expression to one's sense of his worth, and at the same time professing one's own inferiority to him.
We honour God first of all, as the source of all that is and will be. We honour our rulers, who have authority over us, being given by the Almighty. We honour our parents to whom we owe our life. We honour our fellow man, who is made in the image of our Creator.
It is right and proper that marks of honour should be paid to worth of any kind, if there be no special reason to do so otherwise. We are obliged to honour those who stand are superior to ourselves, and even those who are not, for being created in the image of God, they are worthy of basic courtesy and respect.
Why, the Apostle bids us give honour to whom honour is due. To withhold it or to show dishonour to whom honour is due is a sin against justice, and one is obliged to make suitable restitution.
The feudal world that gave life to honour no longer exists, and yet this very notion of 'honour' persists in this very different age. Honour occupies an interesting place in the human conscience. It enhances morality and understanding of God's will. In determining how our conflicts are handled, it aids us as we strive for the perfection of character. In it we are encouraged to return kindness for kindness, to uphold justice and treat all with respect.
There is a story of a master swordsman who sat calmly through numerous insults from bandits. Expertly catching four flies with his chopsticks, he walked away – thus avoiding a fight. A misunderstanding of honour would see this man rising to avenge himself, but nothing the bandits said would have diminished the swordsman’s honour or skill, and fighting them would neither enhance his honour nor skill. It was honourable to walk away.
Honour is courtesy and prudence. Without honour, cherished virtues would be meaningless. Truthfulness without honour leads to embarrassment. Courage without honour brings unnecessary harm to oneself and others. Loyalty without honour is blind obedience. Honour is clearly the hardest virtue to define, and yet the most essential. One must demonstrate courage, courtesy, benevolence, loyalty and truthfulness, finding the balance between humility, glory and respect – even if it means to swallow pride and ambition.
Honour is in right action, goodness and courage on behalf on those who cannot defend themselves – and what one decides to do everyday, one will be honourable. Or not.
Labels: O Tempore O Mores