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Sunday, 3 August 2014





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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.”
- Socrates

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 philosophical belief.

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.

Dunkirk miracle

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.

Rosa Park

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 injustice.

Thousands of soldiers sacrificed their lives to rid LTTE terrorism. They are honourable men and women and deserve respect.

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 life itself.

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 yourself.

4. Love. With honour comes feeling of belonging to the family of man so strong that it wipes out all differences, racial, religious or national.

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.

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