Honor is defined in many ways, but which are right?

By Catherine Dilworth
March 14, 2002

I am a United States Marine and when I see all the commercials for the armed forces I see the main topics that they preach. Many of these topics are teamwork, courage, commitment, integrity, pride, leadership and discipline, but the one that sticks out to me the most is honor.

I have had honor preached to me my entire Marine Corps career until present day. Boot camp was where I was taught honor, I never really thought about honor that much until I discovered what it meant. I am a Sergeant in the Marines and I thought I knew exactly what honor meant to me and to all.

When motivated by a discussion for Dr. Zurek on honor and heroism I decided to look at the topic from an analytical point of view, exploring all sides of the issues, as opposed to opinion pieces.

Men sacrifice their lives “in the name of honor.” To be honorable is the goal for many of men and they will give up everything for the title. What really is honor? More importantly, is honor worth all the trouble?

If honor were to be defined, no one would be able to agree on a clear definition. The Webster’s dictionary defines honor as “good name or public esteem.” Honor could therefore be described as a good reputation. Honorable is merely a title granted to someone that does something respectable. However, that which is honorable is up to the individual.

Many believe it is better to die a thousand deaths than forsake one’s honor. What benefit does being honorable gain a person? You can feel honor toward yourself or feel honorable in the eyes of others. If you seek honor to impress others, you are working for a feeble reason. Attempting to be honorable to please others can be compared to smoking to be popular. Allowing others’ opinion of you to dictate your actions is like being their slave.

In this view, it is not so honorable after all to renounce everything to be honorable. It is not worth a thousand deaths to look good to others. Even using honor as a reason to go to war is senseless. Unless you become a hero, your honor will be remembered by only a few of your survivors. Who would want to give up everything if they knew no one would remember it?

Honor could be used as a simple label to explain one’s actions. Instead of explaining war as killing men with families, it is more comforting to use the phrase honoring thy country. In this sense, honor is merely a mask for the true intentions of your actions. Honor is not tangible and you cannot even guarantee it will be kept. If you are honorable your whole life but then commit one un-honorable act, the past will be forgotten. Honor, therefore, is not something you can prove, keep or even value because it is not concrete and lasting.

On the other hand, honor can be important to you. Our own hearts, not others opinions, more accurately depict our honor. You may regret later that you did not live an honorable life if you do not make the choice now.

Honor could embody your integrity, nobility and character. Honor, perhaps, could be summarized as the knowledge that you bravely fought to preserve your moral standards. Therefore, honor could be standing up for what you believe in. In this manner, the definition of honor would vary person to person. Honor to one man could mean standing up for another’s rights, while for another it could mean killing someone in a duel.

When all is said and done, the man with the most honor still dies. Is there really more satisfaction in knowing that you did the honorable thing such as fighting in a war?

Honor does not always lead to happiness. More often, it can be assumed, that it leads us away from happiness. Honor is the choice that is considered by some more moral but it is more difficult to accomplish. Some say the ultimate test of character, as those of you who took Dr. Lape’s Intro to Philosophy course know, is how you behave when you know you will not be caught. The honorable man does not divulge in the possible pleasures, but instead chooses the more righteous and respectable path-even though no one would ever find out.

I am not saying I don’t believe in honor. I do and I hold it very close to my heart. I believe in my own description of it. I don’t live to satisfy other’s honor. Many say my choices in life are honorable, however, I feel honored to do what I do, I don’t feel honorable because I do it. A true leader will not look for honor, but just be satisfied to know he bestows honor upon his fellow people.

My point is don’t put honor in a box. Honor does not always deal with war and death. Honor can be anywhere. Don’t use honor or let it take you for granted, just let honor happen. You will know when it does; it is an intangible that you feel in your heart. Something no one can take from you but yourself, as long as you know it is real it is yours forever.

Discover what it means to you, don’t fall victim to another’s honor or it will never touch you like self-honor does.

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Catherine Dilworth

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