What is honour?
Around Christmas 2003 some of us began “The Liberation
Front for Words” within the Template Network. Its purpose is simple:
'The liberation of as many endangered words from the dictionary as possible,
by offering them a new value, appreciation and definition and by using them
afresh.' We specifically focussed on words that express a human virtue or quality.
Since its establishment the 'Word-liberation' front, has been able to liberate
many endangered words from potential extinction. In that light, this article
is dedicated to the word 'honour', a noble quality, which is currently more
and more misused and is often substituted for the motivation of revenge and
violence. What follows here, for those who call themselves 'friends of Honour',
is an attempt at the philosophical restoration of Honour.
No one seems to be able to have honour, just like that. It is a fleeting substance.
When you think you have finally got it, the next moment it escapes you again.
It is a process, not a product that you can own. It does not have one single
definition. A complete art of living is wrapped up within this one little
word, with a definition for every occasion.
For some people, honour is still that rare diamond that gets its irresistible
sparkle from a life spent thoroughly and lovingly polishing its features.
For others that is not the case. For them honour is used to dress up violence
and judgement, to give these things a respectable glow. In 'the honour of vengeance',
for example, this princess of human accomplishment gets infamously married
off to the mafia.
Real honour only grows in the right climate, for example by carefully considering
consequences and in the search for constructive reasons. It needs the right
food, nutriments and energy just like everything else in nature.
Honour bridges standards and values and it deepens their significance. For
instance it is easy not to care about the washing-up in the kitchen, it doesn't
take any effort to ignore a fungus growing on the bathroom wall. However, 'easy'
doesn't equal honour. Easy is easy and honour is honour. Of course it is possible
for female drug addicts to get pregnant, and then their children get born addicted.
And of course this is of a totally different order to the earlier examples,
but what links both is 'not considering the consequences'.
The question is not whether or no someone is honourable. The question is whether
the circumstances made it possible for that person to be able to have the right
considerations. For honour cannot be obtained by just giving the 'right' answers
to controversial questions. It has to be won on the field of personal motivation,
consequence, context, depth, reasoning and then... action.
Honour does not know rank, class or university degrees. It is there for everyone.
In the deliberate care, patience and motivation of a mother it is no less valuable
than in the genuine responsibility of a world leader. There is no discrimination
in honour. It is of all nations and of both genders. It does not care about
titles or prestige. Honour simply is honour.
The possibility for personal honour
is there for everyone. For one person it might mean to be 'personally honour
bound' even in a difficult circumstances, for another it may mean courageously
asking a difficult question in a situation where it counts, and for someone
else it may mean for once 'no more fine words but needful actions'.
Also honour appears in groups, for example in the activities of some story
tellers in a children's hospital; in the genuine and compassionate dedication
of a team of teachers; in the voluntary workers in a home for the elderly;
in a team of firemen entering a burning building at the risk of their own lives
in a search for survivors; or in a choir that lifts the spirits of people in
a refugee camp… All these are projects of honour. No one had to do it.
Yet it happened. The motivation was there. And the opportunity was taken with
both hands. And honour was there too, present in the events, felt by all. And
there are times when you would not want to think what may have happened should
honour not have been present. For example where lives are in danger, and rescuers
will make efforts way beyond the call of duty, often in difficult, dangerous
and severe circumstances, to save lives. It is not personal. It is... for the
And so many things have their own unique code of honour. A code that is not
fixed, that can't be found in a book. The question 'how should it be done?'
is of no use when applied to honour. Honour does not have ties with morality.
It does not pass judgement and it does not have good and bad. It joins sound
reasoning with the actions that spring from that.
Honour is immediately there, on the spot, with an effective and spontaneous
reaction in a situation that looks hopeless. A car in the ditch, someone offering
a helping hand out of the blue. Honour joins the unexpected helper to the need,
the saviour, the protector, the comforter, the patient listener, the giver
of hope, the cheering-upper, the generous donor, the faithful friend, the go-getter,
the supporter… All these everyday stories, every single one of them
arising from the love of honour … actually front-page news !
But sometimes it is not so obvious. Not clear-cut or black and white. Those
who steal, for example, or those who kill another person, are they forever
lost to honour? Judgement is so easy. What if stealing is the last resort to
be able to feed the children, or what about the soldier who kills his terminally
wounded companion to prevent his capture and torture?
And there they are at the door, instantly, the moral brigade that simply
divides the world into two, the good or the bad. Honour does not take that
simple a path. It chooses the way of depth, consideration, reason, value,
the way of thinking about consequences and reflecting upon the responsible
steps that result from that.
Honour is also in obeying the laws. But the urgent need may sometimes break
laws. And often then in the breaking of laws, honour re-emerges.
However, honour does not make headlines - political arguments, conflicts
and wars do. But are not irreconcilable differences a sign of immaturity,
of not being able to handle contradictions, the sign of an inability to settle
conflicts in a constructive way? Judgment is much easier; to not have to
think; to instantly look for those that might be guilty and those who are
That's where journalism sometimes becomes a self-acclaimed court
system. Not because the judgement carries any legal power, but because
the judgement sells. Not all journalism works that way, but when the construction
of a story becomes a matter of editing and cutting away to shape a punch
line, to feed public opinion, what was cut away, what nuance, detail or
context? Which facts were sacrificed to increase the appeal? And what if those
details, that nuance, that context supported the actual truth of the story?
Cutting too much reduces the story to sensation, the real story collapses.
The remaining facts may be true, but how are these now arranged, what emphasis
are they given? The honour of telling the truth has been left behind.
What is honour? What else is honour besides the fulfilment of contracts, agreements
and promises? To offer honour a chance to manifest itself outside the dictionary
in a larger perspective, seven definitions of honour are put together in a
colour spectrum. They are meant to be a starter towards the further definition
and development of honour.
||Honour is an expression of principles
in action. Within honour reason and action merge to a cohesive way of life.
||Honour is our light-life and the personal
management that we exercise upon our dark-life, in which the intention
is to increase the light, and to decrease the dark.
||Honour has the ability to sublimate
a destructive situation into a constructive experience.
||Honour is reacting promptly to the
need and in that circumstance having the ability to offer directly what
is needed, no more and no less.
||Honour is a human state that allows
us to never have to be less than human.
||Honour is a state of 'know thyself'
within which, nothing of ourselves is hidden from ourselves.
||Honour is a plasma of purpose. It
enables us to understand at all times the purposes that we serve with our
codes of honour.
Now, at the end of this first exploratory journey trying to wrestle honour
from the clutches of the dictionary, we might take a small moment, as the sworn
friends of honour, to contemplate that most fascinating question: 'why are
we actually friends of honour?'