In the modern western world the concept of “honour” has largely been replaced with that of “integrity”, which is defined as “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles”. But, in truth, only the language of honour is missing, not the idea.

Shakespeare wrote: “Honesty is the best policy. If I lose mine honour, I lose myself.” To understand more about what honour is, it helps to understand it’s opposite.  In Western understanding, shame is the direct opposite of honour and arises when a person feels he or she has not lived up to his or her own expectations.  Going beyond personal shame, in Asian cultures “group shame” arises when a person has not lived up to the community’s rules and expectations. Upholding this concept of cultural honour is what drives Asian society; honour and shame are bound together.

Defining honour

If honour (as a noun) is the quality of knowing and doing what is morally right, and an honourable person is someone who believes in truth and doing the right thing, and who tries to live up to set principles, then honourable conduct must, therefore, have to do with people and actions that are honest, fair, and worthy of respect as judged by oneself and other people. It may be said that honour is maintained by doing the right thing for the right reasons, at the right moment, with an element of selflessness.

How does maintaining honour play out in modern society?

Honour is linked to the principal of being true to your word

Honouring one’s word is something that is often taken too lightly. Too many people make empty promises without realising the damage that not following through will bring about.  This does not only hold true when making promises to others. Nothing is more powerful in building one’s own self esteem than honouring your promises to yourself.  C.S. Lewis wrote, “Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching.”

Honour is based on reputation

Honour is based on how others view us and on how we view ourselves.  When a person stops caring about their reputation, and shame goes out of the window, it follows that this person will devolve into doing the least they can without getting into legal trouble or being fired. Here lies the road to mediocrity, incompetence and even corruption.

Honour cannot be legislated in communities and networks of trust

Honour cannot be regulated by commands or legislated by law, but is a bond among comrades. To activate and engage the passions of an entire group of people it is important to transform the group into a highly-functioning community of individuals who want to be their best, who feel exceptionally valued, and who celebrate one another’s successes.

Honour leads to acts of selflessness

Showing honour entails treating another person respectfully because we value them highly.  We often think in terms of granting honour to those who have earned it or deserve it, but what amazing occurrence might be initiated if we just “gave” honour to someone without any expectations of payback?

Here are four practical ways to honour someone:

  1. Show loyalty:  As a loyal associate you may not agree with your comrade all of the time and will not always have the same opinion, but a loyal associate is always honest and impartial, wanting the best for the other person.
  2. Give someone your expertise to help fix a problem:  Honour someone by giving them a hand! You never know, through the law of reciprocity, when the same honour may be given to you.
  3. Listen:  Just listen. Oftentimes when people ask for advice, what they really want is to go over something they just can’t get off their mind.
  4. Don’t judge:  When someone comes to you for help, chances are they are feeling pretty vulnerable and they are trusting you to listen without being judgmental or condescending.

Who do you know that deserves honour?

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