This is part 2 of a 3 part Meanderings where I am presenting my personal view of the 3 Tenets of a Hero: Courage, Honor, and Compassion. Last week, I wrote about Courage. This week I share with you my perspective on Honor. Please note that in our camps and classes, we strive to have our heroes form their own definition of these three concepts – which is why this commentary uses “I” statements. What I present here is simply an example of my own view which may or may not resonate with you.
I think one of the first points to acknowledge about my view of honor is that I believe it has nothing to do with the way others see me and everything to do with whether I can trust my actions…
Honor is an internal code which directs my actions. It helps me determine what is right and wrong (morality) as well as allowing me to determine whether or not society’s view of right and wrong (ethics) is in alignment with my own.
I think that one of the most important qualities of my honor is that it should never be beyond question. The terms “right” and “wrong” are a strongly dualistic (only two opposing options) approach to human behavior. The problem with dualism is that it doesn’t leave room for the subtleties of intent. It can also promote a righteous mindset that can be prone to narrow-mindedness and an obstacle to compassion (more on this next week). Humans and situations tend to be more complex than one or two reasons.
These shades of grey can make it a challenge to decide when and how to make a judgment. I can do this by creating priorities (X is more important than Y). And yet, even then, it is rarely a clean choice without some amount of second-guessing or regret. However, that second-guessing and regret is also a sign that I am questioning my internal code… which is pretty much the one truly consistent core value I hold for myself.
As I mentioned last week, I believe that it takes courage to hold to an internal code when strong emotions are involved. It’s easy to state that part of my honor is to protect those who cannot protect themselves. It’s another thing to stand in front of an aggressor and willingly face physical danger in order to defend someone else. It’s easy to call myself an open-hearted individual and very different to actively work on softening my heart when I have been emotionally wounded. Anger, fear, and desire are almost constantly swaying our decisions. It’s a challenge to be aware of their presence and to try and temper their influence on our decisions. It is also important to acknowledge these feelings when we question or follow our code of honor.
In my writing about Courage, I wrote about Oskar Schindler, who saved his 1200 Jewish employees from the concentration camps during WW2. Not as many people know about Chiune Sugihara. Sugihara was a Japanese diplomat who forged thousands of documents that allowed between 10,000 and 40,000 Jews and their families to escape Germany. Even as he was being transported home to face disgrace by his government, he continued to throw papers out of the window of the train to the Jews gathered there. When asked why he, a direct descendant of a long line of proud Samurai, would defy his government in such a way, Sugihara responded that his honor demanded it. He questioned the ethics of his country and found that it conflicted with his honor. And so he acted.
Another part of honor, to me, is to face the consequences of my actions (or inactions). When I make a mistake and others are hurt (no matter how long ago), it’s important to me to accept my role in that process. All of our actions have consequences – intended or not. As I had mentioned in a Meanderings from weeks ago called “Apology”, I don’t think it’s necessary to own the entire outcome in order to acknowledge my role in the outcome… and to offer an apology.
Lastly, I see honor as very different from the term “face”. Honor is my internal code which no one else can take from me. Only I can compromise my honor. Face is how I appear to others. This can be tarnished by my own actions (following or not following my honor) or by the perception of others in regards to my actions (even if those perceptions seem to be inaccurate). Face can make or break a leader because few people will follow a leader who they perceive to be unethical or incompetent. However, sometimes a tarnished image is the price a person must pay for adhering to their honor.
In our camps and classes, we try to help our heroes understand the difference between the honor you define for yourself and the face that others see and judge. After everything is said and done, I am the person who is responsible for my own actions and my own emotions. I must constantly question my feelings, challenge my motives, and find the courage to be true to what I believe is both right and appropriate.
As a great man once said, “My actions are the ground upon which I stand.”
And stand we must.