I had a lot of time for contemplation yesterday during the four hour drive to and from San Diego, and in the many hours waiting for my step-brother to get out of his long surgery. (Happily, it went well.) He is an ex-naval officer, retired from the service by his illness. As I was driving by the Marine base at Camp Pendleton, and saw the Navy ships off Coronado, I found myself thinking about a word we don’t use nearly as much in our society as we used to, and whose absence in usage and fact diminishes us all. That word is honor. Both my parents, but especially my grandfather (about whom I’ve written in this blog a month ago) used to talk with me about the absolute importance of honor in our lives, and how we must cultivate this vital virtue in a manner that will result in our actions and our lives reflecting that we are people of honor, and we behave and treat everyone we meet with the respect that this word demands of us.
As a noun, honor means regard and great esteem, an adherence to what is right.
As a verb, honor means to look and act with high respect and regard, to fulfill an obligation or keep an agreement. As a boy, I was taught that a man’s word is his bond, and it is one that cannot be broken. It is a moral obligation, an imperative to which we have committed.
“Honor” comes from the Latin honos or honor, and from the old French onor, onorer.
Today, we say “do the honors”, meaning to perform a social duty or a small ceremony.
An “honor” is a thing conferred as a distinction, especially as an official reward for bravery or achievement. As the verb, it means exalt and glorify. Borrowing from the ancient Greeks who placed a wreath of laurels on the heads of the winners of their Olympic Games, we now use the term “laureates” for those we have officially honored, as with the Nobel Prize.
In the past, we referred to a woman’s honor as her purity, virtue or chastity.
Other words that accompany or describe someone with honor are: self-respect, dignity, courage, fidelity, virtue, nobility, integrity, uprightness, trustworthiness, excellence of character.
The Oxford Dictionary keeps a tally of the frequency of use of various English words, and sadly, but not surprisingly, the use of “honor” has been in marked decline since its heights from 1850-1900. If we are to survive as a species, we need to revitalize this word, not by usage, but by actions – our own, and by those upon whose actions we have some influence. We need to teach it to our children, we need to live it in our lives, and we need to demand it from our friends, and those to whom we give our votes. Think of how much better your world would be if you enforced the honor code upon all those with who you come in contact!