On My Honor

When I was a kid (I’m pushing 40, so that’s a not insignificant time ago) my Dad could do business on the honor system. A handshake, you give your word, the deal was done. We copied that on the playground. Handshakes, spit on it, etc. We were bound by our honor. We meant it, we took it seriously, we held to it.

We hear a lot today about living in a “post-truth” society. That wouldn’t be a thing if we weren’t already living in a post-honor society. A man’s word means absolutely nothing today. We’ll lie and say that it does, but our actions speak much louder than our words.

I try, in my small way, to nudge things back. I keep my word. Honor means a lot to me. Not in some ancient chivalry, misogynist, chest-thumping way. But just in a quiet, solid, I-keep-my-word way. This is, possibly, the first time I’ve made a deal about it. I hope it has been noticed, but I don’t know. It won’t change, regardless of recognition. I am who I am.

On the rare occasions where I get to talk to kids about sports and winning, I try to share a little nugget with them that I’ve put together over the years. I’ll share it with you. There’s the old aphorism “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” by Grantland Rice, which is a pretty good rule to go by. But, as a competitive person, I can tell you it isn’t enough.

It does matter if you win or lose, to the players. You don’t put in that much time, training, and sweat to be happy with losing. But there’s losing and there’s losing, and I think that’s what Mr. Rice was getting at. I break it down this way.

  1. Winning with Honor
  2. Losing with Honor
  3. Losing without Honor
  4. Winning without Honor

You might look at 3 and 4 and think I’m crazy, but let me explain. If you sacrifice your honor and still lose, you are less likely to do it again. You probably learned something. That’s way better than sacrificing your honor, winning, and feeling that it was justified so you’ll totally do it again. This is the “winning at all costs” mentality.

I try to urge the young folk that were somehow put in my care to aim for 1 or 2 and to do their best to make sure the 4’s don’t happen, without sacrificing their own honor.

We live in a society where 4 is really considered ok. Take our president for example. The man lied his way through the campaign and won. He’s definitely a 4. And for those of you who will immediately throw Hillary at me, she’s only a 3, so calm down.

What does something like that teach our children? What does it say to us? That the two “options” we had were between a 3 and a 4? And the 3 was doing her damnedest to be a 4, just so we’re clear. When was the last time we had a 1 in the Oval Office? Or were heartbroken to see a 2 beaten by a 4? Honestly, I can’t recall a true 2, and certainly not a 1 in my lifetime of presidential elections. Maybe you can.

But this isn’t just about politics. Let’s look at Bill Belichick. That man has been a 4 over and over again. And he doesn’t care. And we don’t appear to care. Why? Sean Payton and Bountygate. He got a one-year suspension? Really? That’s the best the NFL could do?

We have religious leaders lining their pockets with church donations. Building giant homes, flying around in helicopters, and, in general, living an honorless (godless?) life. And what happens to them? Nothing bad. They get rewarded with more attention, more money, more more more.

There is one, recent, high-profile honorable man I can point to. Pope Francis. I’m a non-religious person, but I can appreciate that man’s honor. He means what he says, he doesn’t lie or wheedle.  I don’t agree with him 100%, but I have to admire his conviction, honor, and integrity.

The sad thing, is how much he stands out. He should be the normal, not the exception. We should assume our leaders, secular and religious, are honorable people. Instead of assuming they are not, as the case is now.

Yes, I know there are millions of honorable men and women out there. Living their lives truthfully, with integrity. But they aren’t stopping the 4s from winning and being rewarded for it. Why is that? Why aren’t we demanding better?

Why has Honor become so meaningless? Why has our word, our integrity, our souls, if you want to put it that way, come to mean so little? Why has winning (or making sure the other guy loses) become so damn important? So important that we will sacrifice our own honor by supporting the honorless? Why did we give it up so easily? What can we do to get it back?

I’m doing what I can. Living my example. Talking to people about it when I can. A blog post here and there. What can you do? Do you even care? I really hope I’m not the only one.

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