Is honour really dead or mortally wounded?
The greatest way to live with honour in this world is to be what we
pretend to be.”
We throw the word - honour - around quite a bit in our modern lexicon
and give it a lot of lip service, but if you were to ask someone, “What
is honour?” you’ll likely be answered with furrowed brows and head
scratches. We think we know what it is, but often find it difficult to
express when pressed.
Honour is a classic character trait that is often overlooked in the
rush of modern society. Living an honourable life is not something that
just happens - it is something that must be carefully and continually
sought after. We will not see much of it as we walk through an average
day, so we have to be careful to set ourselves apart from the
commonality of dishonourable behaviour.
Socrates opted to die rather than sacrifice his
It is not glorified in our society as something to be desired, yet it
is more to be desired than fame and riches. It is not often hailed as
sacred in the halls of political power, yet without it politicians
cannot truly succeed. It is not commonly praised among people of fame,
yet without it their perceived “success” is often accompanied by
unfulfillable desire and feelings of unhappiness.
It is not often held as a foundational component of behaviour in our
universities, yet without honour the educated man winds up hollow and
empty. It is not often a focus of training in our public schools, yet
without a foundation of honour our children cannot perceive what
behaviours is truly of value.
So what has gone wrong? Before we attempt to answer this question,
let us consider three real-life stories, chosen at random.
On May 26, 1940, as Hitler’s armies overran France, British and
French troops retreated by the tens of thousands into the little French
port of Dunkirk. From Dunkirk, there was no place left to go but into
the English Channel. The British Navy had only a few ships small enough
to go in and evacuate the men. Thus the world could no nothing but to
sit by the radio in frustration, waiting for news that these vast armies
of brave men had been wiped out.
Then, in the early hours of May 27, a miracle began to unfold. From
everywhere in the British Isles they came - poor fishermen with creaky
and bear-up fishing boats, noblemen with yachts, sportsmen with racing
yawls and motor launches. None of them had guns.
As the morning sun lit the beaches of Dunkirk, the first of the
hundreds of small boats pulled into the shore. The cheers of the trapped
soldiers drowned out by the roar of the Luftwaffe overhead, strafing and
bombing the beach, and by the crackle of British spitfires trying to
fight them off.
Under that hell in the sky, the miracle of Dunkirk continued for nine
days and nights. Altogether, 338,226 British and French lives were
saved. For the men of British Navy, the final hour of all - the hour of
greatest honour - took place on the beaches of Dunkirk in 1940.
On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, an US citizen, broke the law. Her
crime was to take an empty seat on a public bus in Montgomery, Alabama.
It’s an act that doesn’t seem special at all today. But in 1955,
segregation laws in some states in the USA needed separate seating for
blacks and whites in restaurants, on buses and in other public spaces.
Parks stood for racial equality by refusing to move when the driver
asked her to give her seat to a white man. Parks sat quietly while the
driver called the police. “People always say that I didn’t give up my
seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true,” Parks said. “The only
tired I was, was tired of giving in.”
Parks was arrested, but her act of bravery set off a chain of events
that changed the United States. With the help of a 27-year old preacher,
Martin Luther King Jr., who had been inspired by the non-violent
techniques of Mahatma Gandhi, African Americans responded to the
Thousands of soldiers sacrificed their lives to rid LTTE
terrorism. They are honourable men and women and deserve
They refused to ride buses in Montgomery, where about three-quarters
of bus riders were black. The peaceful boycott, lasted 381 days. In
1956, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that African Americans could not be
forced to sit only in certain areas on buses. And in 1964, the Civil
Rights Act outlawed racial discrimination in all public places.
We know how Socrates was executed by the Athenian council in 399 B.C.
for his shuffling around Athens barefoot and teaching the truth. The
accusation laid upon him was that of his “corrupting the youth of the
city,” which he apparently accomplished by declaring his conviction of
his own ignorance.
Almost immediately after the judgement, he was offered his life if he
would refrain from further teaching. He refused and willingly and
without complaint, drank the cup of poison they had prepared for him.
These are acts of honour, all of them. Socrates, Rosa Park and those
hundreds of brave citizens taught us what honour really is. In them,
life and honour were inseparable.
What is their essence? What qualities do they share?
1. A moment of truth . In every case, someone recognised that
something was wrong, and was willing to face it and put it right.
2. Risk of sacrifice . To do the honourable thing always requires a
sacrifice, whether of time, money reputation, comfort, safety - or of
3. Integrity. Honour Needs that you act in private the same way you
would act if others were watching. It means keeping an agreement with
4. Love. With honour comes feeling of belonging to the family of man
so strong that it wipes out all differences, racial, religious or
This is what honour really means. Honour 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.
Honour is a way of life, said Shakespeare, in Richard II. “Mine
honour is my life; both grow as one; Take honour from me, and my life is
done.” Honour is not something asked for or given because of the role
one plays. Honour can never be taken from you and you can never force
another to honour you. What we can do is live an honourable life that
others will find worthy of to freely give honour.
An honourable life means to be truthful in all of your dealings. It
means to exercise restraint over your emotions and reaction so you don’t
abuse or exploit each other through power and control. Honour is about
being loyal to all those to whom you have made an obligation. This
includes your mate and children, your employer and co-workers, your
community and the country you live.