This isn’t necessarily a deeply philosophical dissertation but how does a word like that appear in any human language is a mystery to me. My theory is that honor per se is attained through: 1- conscious thought and introspection, 2- a heightened sense of altruism and 3- the ability for detachment. That means these qualities would be exhibited in such a way as though there is no specific objective; the person knows his actions can affect positively or adversely and adjusts to accommodate others. Of course this is most impractical but plausible.
Then there is reality; each small attribute existent within this word cannot be exhibited by a person no matter what their upbringing; humans have it in their nature to adopt a behavior only to replace it by a complete opposite depending on whether they feel safe or threatened, happy or sad, it doesn’t matter what it is, a person can change quickly but is it a permanent change? Can the good go bad and vice versa? I’m too much of a cynic but then what evidence is there that man has the ability to follow such a high standard of moral and spiritual prowess? Maybe there is no conscious quest for honor; perhaps I’m looking at this topic all wrong.
Man in general struggles in choosing his preferred behavior he will either gain from it or suffer from it. I think it is safe to state that man’s quest is not in itself the attainment of honor for the sake of honor but that of fighting against and surviving his own nature, which is constantly being bombarded by external and internal threats that motivate him to make a choice for himself. I still wonder if each man ever thinks of this before he acts. I say man in general terms so please don’t chastise me for not being PC. Surely this has been the ideal standard throughout the ages as we see in examples of extreme honor and altruistic traits in historical personages emulated in literature:
Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, otherwise known as El Cid is one good example of a historical figure turned national hero and practically rock star of his time; the very representative of the highest principles of living and conduct. I realize the man was a professional soldier either by decree or as an entrepreneur – okay, a mercenary, which does not bother me nor does it affect my analysis of his conduct – and that perhaps this view of mine could assign military men the very qualities I am attempting to dispute are even possible in human beings. My objective is to point out how we seem to aspire to and admire those who succeed in adopting this behavior. El Cid exhibited some of the elements encountered in the word Pravda in that even as a professional warrior, he was open to his men’s input and encouraged them to study and perfect their skills through education. His leadership style brought out the best out of those serving under him. He’s a close one alright. The stories usually feature a particular theme or conflict which is resolved in its conclusion with a moral lesson.
Honor or Pravda can sometimes even make a man go insane.
However, in the Quixote’s mind the quest is really not about finding honor, for he already believes to possess it, but rather to live the honorable life of the warrior that drives his antics. Whether this behavior – as depicted in the first part of Cervantes’ oeuvre – is a sign of a deep delusional state or the obsession that comes from greed and lust over power, perhaps is up to the reader to find. I do not believe this the case with the Quixote since in spite of all his frustrations there is the constant humming of his character, always the gentle soul ready to help others and stern but fair master to Sancho. Of course Sancho is far from willing to live the same life in order to achieve greatness but then all good guys must have a counter character to balance things out.
Are some humans drawn to achieve this state of life because of the rewards of good behavior or for their own spiritual development? That would mean that regardless how much the honorable life rewards an individual the life patterns do not change to achieve more rewards but rather to learn regardless of how one’s own actions affect others ever so positively, one does not ever deviate from the course. That is still a challenging endeavor.
Even high-profile historical people can feel at odds sometimes deciding what is good and what is evil and choosing their path. Maybe hate goes hand in hand with this transformation.
Lawrence of Arabia comes to mind.
I don’t usually subscribe to film versions of books or of biographical works (T.E. Lawrence) but I’m going to make an exception with this character because of this bigger-than-life persona built around him. It is also the expression in the man’s face that is most gripping. A crucial battle scene in this movie, as interpreted by the talented Peter O’Toole; T.E. Lawrence is seen struggling with his emotions. The character is overwhelmed as he stands in the midst of the carnage, his revolver in one hand, his body twitching with excitement, teeth bared and wondering whether it was the taste of human blood and finally engaging his enemy in a good fight or sheer terror…or both.
Honor is certainly an abstraction. Those who exhibit such traits are not usually consciously being honorable as self-respect and courage go hand in hand and part of their upbringing. It is a way of life. Our greatest and bravest people are so because they believe in right versus wrong, look after the weak and are protective of those values. They inspire others to be just like them. To be asked to restraint great courage in order to fulfill some sick perception of right and calling it the new courage is to sponsor cowardice. There is great good in our warriors. Not everyone is perfect but Americans are a great people; and wherever we go we engage in good deeds. Perhaps now military people are not regarded with the same euphoric admiration as in Medieval times but it would be a disservice from all of us if we did not recognize their sacrifice.
Worse yet is each generation born will learn less about this country’s greatness, about its courageous people and history and continue on their journey into utter obscurity.