On the outdated concept of honor

Published 10:28 am Thursday, April 7, 2016

During this election year, we are once again deluged with statements from various candidates – local, state and federal; Democrat and Republican – claiming to represent American values.

I suppose when it comes to honor I am medieval in my thinking. To some, this is akin to be hopelessly out of touch with the world and living in the past. It probably is.

Searching the Internet for a definition, I found this as the number one entry in a modern online dictionary: “a tangible symbol signifying approval or distinction; “an award for bravery”.

Not quite what I had in mind. Honor is a quality that is not only earned by your deeds and actions, but is an integral part of a person’s psyche – the one quality that keeps you honest, gives you self-worth and self-respect, and that makes you always strive to be the best person you can be.

Honor is the quality most admired in tales about the medieval knights, such as King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Chivalry is the concept most mentioned, but chivalry is simply a manifestation of honor.

The ideal knight would defend the defenseless, rescue damsels in distress, and die rather than bring shame or dishonor on his king or his God. The reality, I realize, was much different. Most knights were swaggering bullies who looked upon peasants as little more than slaves and gloried in how many unarmored people – soldiers or civilians – they could kill.

Nevertheless, the medieval world at least had the notion of honor even if they didn’t very often live up to it.

But the folks in the Middle Ages didn’t invent honor, nor were they the only practitioners of honor. We’re all familiar with tales of Japanese samurai warriors who, after suffering a dishonorable defeat, would kill themselves by slicing open their stomachs with their swords.

That, however, is not where the phrase “to fall on one’s sword” comes from. Romans that lost their honor because of something they did or failed to do would, literally, fall on their swords as the only way to erase the stain on their personal and family honor.

Today, most people only see honor as the trophies they get for some accomplishments: “He was honored with the Noble Peace Prize.” “She was honored with a Pulitzer.” Etc.

Take a look at most sports to find out where we are. If a football receiver traps the ball after it has hit the ground even though the referee calls it a good catch, how many times have you seen the receiver tell the ref that he really didn’t catch it? Not a one. If he did and it was a crucial moment in a crucial game, his teammates would consider him a traitor and the fans would chase him out of the state.

If a CEO’s company collapses because of mismanagement, which costs thousands of employees their hard-earned pensions, will the CEO do the honorable thing by publicly resigning, apologizing for his bad management, and dip into his own fortune to help the employees? That doesn’t happen. He will stay on the job until forced out, accept every cent he can get from the Board of Directors as “his due” and, at best, give lip service to caring about the now broke people who thought they had a solid retirement plan.

The very concept of honor has disappeared in modern America. People are not expected to act honorably. In fact, people are expected and encouraged to act dishonorably.

Take Ted Cruz’s reaction to the ads showing racy photos of Donald Trump’s wife by a PAC supporting Cruz, which attacked her and Trump for immorality. Assuming that the Cruz campaign had nothing to do with creating those ads, he should publicly repudiate them as a matter of honor. An honorable man would have denounced the ads as soon as he realized they were malicious in nature.

Cruz has yet to denounce the ads. All he’s done has been to attack Trump for his pitiful counter-attack on Cruz’s wife. So much for honor from both Cruz and Trump.


Keith Hoggard is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be contacted at keith.hoggard@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7206.