The Formation of Honour in the Seven Stages of Life
World Citizen Series
article ‘What is Honour?’ in
issue 11 began with the observation that it is not possible to have honour ‘just
like that’, without
any work, and that if you think you have it in one moment, it eludes you in
the next. It was also stated that an entire way and art of living a life is
packed into that one small word, with a different definition for each and every
occasion. In the following pages writers of different ages make an attempt
to describe the development of honour through the successive stages of life.
What now follows is a general introduction to what may be some important considerations in the formation of personal honour during those stages.
The Influence of Human Qualities
We do not find ourselves with constructive personal qualities just like that, out of the blue, without any effort. An important difference between constructive qualities and destructive ones is that the constructive ones, such as thoroughness, carefulness and creativity for example, develop as a result of our own free choice, whereas destructive qualities such as anger and jealousy are able, suddenly and unexpectedly, to take us over, even against our own will.
The reality of such a ‘hostile takeover’ may be described by the person with words of bewilderment such as, I don’t know what came over me; it was totally out of character at the time; it happened in a fit of anger. Another person, who looks back on their unfortunate experience, might say something like, I totally lost control of myself; it was as if it was happening to me, and I suddenly got jealous.
In criminal trials, acting on impulses such as these is sometimes presented as an extenuating circumstance. It was not after all, (so it is said) the person themselves who crossed the threshold and committed the crime, it was, in fact, something else that made them do it.
And yet, one wonders… But now comes the unusual part, and that is that no-one ever talks about experiencing a ‘hostile take-over’ by respect or cheerfulness for example. No-one gives a bouquet of flowers in a ‘blind fury’ of appreciation, nor is one suddenly seized by an uncontrollable state of understanding or of patience. It would seem that these other human qualities require a bit of work, and that they need to be cultivated over time, little by little and with great care.
And then, in this process of considering what honour is, another question has gradually appeared whilst this was being written: Can honour actually exist without choice?
Lotten Kärre and Sander Funneman
Morality vs. Honour
How does honour form up within us? The great danger in the consideration here is that from a young age, honour gets formed up in the house of morality. This house consists of codes of behaviour imposed on us from outside - by our parents, school, friends, the government, the media or any other number of sources - codes of behaviour which will hold sway over our life without us actually knowing the specific reasons behind them. The number of these codes in common circulation is staggering, and all of them have originated outside of us. To give you an idea, just a few of these follow here. They are in no special order.
Greet others when meeting them and when taking your leave. Don’t litter. Don’t let others take the blame for your mistakes. Help those less fortunate than yourself. Let others have their say. Don’t cheat on your spouse. If you accidentally break something belonging to someone else, pay for the replacement or have it repaired. Don’t discriminate. Don’t talk behind people’s backs. Give your seat to an elderly person on public transport. Don’t bully or intimidate others to get your way or to promote your opinion. Don’t make fun of other people. Keep your promises. Don’t reach across the dinner table in front of another person when you need something. Look at someone when you’re speaking to them. Pay your debts... and the list goes on and on.
But are these codes, born within a house of morality, anything to do with the quality of honour? Do we sometimes lose our honour when we blindly comply, either en masse or on our own, with these often very impressive codes? However good these codes may be, and they are, the unthinking observance of them can lead to a morally correct life, but can also result in one that is slavish in how it carries on. It may indeed ‘follow the rules’ and may even look respectable on the outside, but it does this blindly – “that’s just the way things are done”.
Is there perhaps a more effective, authentic and individual place within us where the quality of true honour can take seed and grow? Another house entirely, one in which the why of things has a place? To take a common example, why would I want to clean up my living room? Is it because there may be guests coming, or because it is impossible for me to function in the rubbish heap it has become? Why should I finish the chores begun around the house, or want to help other people, or work hard?
In the process of developing an individual, self-determined and thus authentic honour, it is essential to examine our many codes of behaviour and rules of conduct to find the reasons behind them, so that they can be confirmed or rejected from each individual’s motives. Should we not do this, then honour becomes irreversibly stripped of the freedom of choice and ends up being recast as a norm, a code of behaviour or a formula which can, by degrees, be experienced as a mask or a straitjacket by the person in question.
Shielded by Honour
There is a massive divide between the two worlds which make up constructive and destructive qualities. Constructive qualities will never force themselves upon us, whilst destructive qualities are like hungry birds of prey circling above our heads, waiting for that unguarded moment, a moment of weakness which will offer them the chance to strike. This brings us back to our original idea, the individual formation of honour during the successive stages of life.
Equipped with a personal, individually-built code of honour, implemented through our own actions and condition and by what we radiate, we should be able to shield ourselves from those birds of prey flying high in the air above our heads which screech us on to unworthy behaviour.
Honour is a natural quality, one that is inherent in being human, and as such it can also characterise a group of people as a whole if invited to do so. An example of this from the East is to be found in Bushido, the honour code of the Japanese samurai. They aspired to Bushido not only in order to do things, to act with honour, but also and especially to be and to embody it. For the samurai, to be honourable thus meant allowing themselves to be exclusively governed by honour, to have it infuse through the whole of their being. Here in the West, a number of continental European languages express this literally as ‘being filled with’ or ‘full of’ this quality, permeating the very being of the person who has it. For example in Dutch eervol, in German ehrenvoll and in Swedish ärofull, all of which literally mean ‘full of honour’. From childhood on, the young samurai were trained to become trustworthy and reliable through the fundamentals of this code.
Perhaps a modern, individual version of Bushido, a self-developed code of honour, could prevent senseless suffering and violence, since, for the person who adheres to it, the code is more important than his or her immediate personal gratification.
But, the question must be asked, where and how in the process of the young samurai’s development did the code move from simple good manners and bearing to a self-chosen and self-established code of honour? This idea, of a fluid or malleable honour in place of one that is hardened and solidified, congealed and fixed, gave rise to this article.
Thus we, the authors, have a vision of personal honour as a ‘self-evolving quality’. We have also come to realise that personal honour will develop and grow as we progress through the various stages of life, thus encouraging us to drop the idea of a fixed approach when considering honour.
In order to research the formation and evolution of personal honour through the different stages of life, we have asked a number of people to give their views on the subject. Some of the people are ‘hands-on experts’ in their age group and have researched the question of what true honour actually involves. Others are professionals within their age group and have given a great deal of thought to the question from that perspective.
The following question was put to them: How is it possible for personal honour to develop naturally in the successive stages of life of a person?
- Age 0 to 12 – The honour that comes with ‘being able to do’
- Age 12 to 21 – Climbing the ladder towards ‘being able to decide from within’
- Age 21 to 32 – The honour of making choices towards the formation of a useful identity
- Age 32 to 45 – The honour to form a self chosen morality, based in reason and need
- Age 45 to 55 – Establishing the honour of personal integrity and inner surety
- Age 55 to 65 – The honour to sublimate the many experiences of life into the wisdoms of life
- Age 70 to end of life – The honour to crystallise the wisdoms of life
Dharma Ramsahai is a mother of two children in this age-group and is a teacher at a primary school in the Netherlands.
Dharma Ramsahai with Lisa
If we think about it, the world of a newly born child is dramatically different to the world of an adult. The baby has no knowledge initially, but as soon as it is born the framework of reference starts to grow at an enormous speed. From birth until around the age of 4, the child is completely dependent upon those who care for it, in most cases the parents.
Young children, as well as older ones, need people around them who lead by example in a regular and reliable way. Personal qualities get seeded at a very young age, qualities such as value for your body, appreciation of other people as well as good manners and respect. Both as a mother and in my work as a teacher in a primary school, I come across examples of the fact that things which we do not demonstrate to children, they will never be able to adopt for themselves later in life.
So how then, does the quality of honour start to manifest in the different ages between 0 and 12 years:
From 0 – 4 years. The honour of ‘being able to do’.
The child will not accept help with smearing butter on bread, getting dressed or pushing the shopping trolley.
From 4 to 6 years. The honour of extending boundaries by learning new things.
Like writing your name for the first time.
From 6 to 9 ears. The honour of being able to take new initiatives.
Like taking up a hobby or being of help to somebody else.
From 9 to 12 years. The honour of self inclusion in the world around.
For example by listening to the conversations of adults in a new way.
Independence, in close connection with developing an individual will, is very important for the formation of honour in the ages from 0 to 12.
A few questions present themselves, for example how independent do we allow children to become? Is there enough space for the child to take their own initiative? Are there enough challenges in the child’s immediate surroundings? The forming of honour during these years needs exposure to new experiences, like taking up a new hobby or learning new skills.
Children also discover the honour of giving. This can apply no matter how small a child is, for example by fetching something for somebody else. In my class I let the children help each other as much as possible. It is remarkable to see how a child of five helps a new child of 4 in all kinds of situations such as going to the toilet, putting on a jacket, clearing up. It is the beginning of opening up to the idea that others might need something from us.
I believe that we must not underestimate the possibilities and the capabilities of children. They depend much on our belief and trust and the opportunities we create. And as we know, it takes a while for a seed to germinate to finally appear as a magnificent flower.
Gafnit Salvi has a son in this age-group, and is also the founder of a youth movement in Maale Zvia, a village in Israel.
Honour is a quality that grows throughout life and one that young people can grow and develop during their training towards adulthood. During this time of exploration and experience honour and other qualities can rise up and bloom in their life.
By analogy, in order to grow up we need a ladder to climb. Also we need good assistance from friends, whose names are patience, will power, good exampleship, reasoning and value for life, to be in a position to want to make an effort to grow up safely, with dignity and honour and to establish integrity for the future of oneself. Now, it is not so simple, and just putting the right words to it is only the beginning. It needs actions that match the words. It needs much more to be able to help and assist young people, between the ages 12 to 21, to build honour inside themselves for life.
Let’s try to detect it and let’s start from this frame of mind - honour is the ability to make a decision from internal reasoning and value that causes an action that will not be harmful to others. If we look at the time of puberty and the trainee adult time as going up the ladder to be able to come to a decision, it is almost an impossible task to do. The reasons for this are many. There is not a stable foundation yet, the person is still in the process of identity building, social pressures are huge, they are in a state of search, and have not yet collected enough experience towards the validity of that decision making process.
So, let’s go back to the ladder analogy. We can look at one side of the vertical pillars that hold the steps as the family configuration - the strength, the love, the education, the sharing, the giving, and being an example for the teenager to learn from and to be influenced by, so he/she can sow the seeds of what can grow from him/her in the future. The other pillar is made up of many facets - society, school, tribe, country, and later on the whole world that the teenager is part of. All these deliver, produce, manufacture and transfer seeds of honour to the teenager to promote the growth of the value of honour in her/his life. Can it work in good calibration and synchronisation between the two pillars? What would happen if it did not? Can we, the adults, perceive the importance of it?
Now, let’s look briefly at the ages from 12 to 21 and give to each age one significant point out of many:
Age 12 - honour from the family and society by signs of puberty -
Age 13 - honour of trial and error, ‘out of the nest’ exploration
Age 14 - honour of group identity
Age 15 - honour of gender - boys and girls
Age 16 - honour of self desire and passion about life
Age 17 - honour of independence and moral issues
Age 18 - honour of it counts, small and big steps - good or not good
Age 19 - honour of blooming of self responsibility and independence
Age 20 - honour of internal self-knowing - to reason in and out
Age 21 - honour of knowing what one will not do
Now we have two main directions, one that is positive and promotes seeds of honour for the human race, and the other that does not promote the development of humanity in the global village… And in the world today we can see a lot of both… and much can be said about both.
So, what will be the way of honour in the future? It is in our hands as a responsibility and for the longevity into the future of all humankind.
Julian Dickreiter is just leaving this age-group. He is a member of the board of directors of the Template Workshop-centre ‘Einzig’ in Cologne, Germany and also works as a software engineering consultant.
This time of life is shaped by intensity, you see possibilities ahead of you, nothing is yet too late and the future is waiting. This causes a powerful pressure into the just starting adult life. At that age I found myself caught between two opposing poles that were influencing me in alternation.
First of all there was the fascinating perception that I had the freedom to design my life by myself, in exactly the way I imagined it. I wanted nothing more than to move away from everything that felt out of fashion, and it appeared undignified to me to go the way of conformity that was recommended to me by well meaning older people.
It was also obvious that I was by no means an unknown quantity any more. I already had habits, comfortabilities, fears and an inferiority complex. This side of my life was familiar, more or less pleasant, but somehow seemed dishonourable, whilst the endeavour for freedom and re-design appeared heroic and honourable.
Though, it must be said, I had doubts concerning this juvenile aspiration for freedom. At the same time I became aware of the fact that it is possible to persuade oneself of the most incredible things and then believe in them. When was I inside reality and when did I hypnotize myself? A difficult question, and I only really felt honourable in those cases when I stayed true to myself.
To stay true to oneself is terrific advice for someone that knows who or what they are. This was not the case with me, and I doubt very much that it is with others. It seemed that the task was more to find an identity, a Weltbild (a view of life).
The finding of such a Weltbild became my first conscious decision in the building of my personal honour. It became apparent that only the assessment of all things, including myself, inside some greater order would give a successful trace in the long run, and would help me to step into the consequences of my considerations.
With hindsight I can now say that the first distinct feelings of dignity and honour turned up much later, only after many years of the practical application of my earlier thoughts. They are not grand and wonderful emotions, but rather a deep earthy cognition of stability, contentment and thankfulness.
Lars Bjerregaard is right in the middle of experiencing this age grouping. He is a computer IT consultant in Denmark.
I would like to try and express something about what honour means to me, being a 40 year old man.
I think that the concept of honour is one of the most misunderstood things in human life, and many horrible things have been done, and are done, in the name of honour. I feel, therefore, that some of the real understanding of what honour actually is has been lost in the world of today. And yet I believe, at the same time, that honour is something very real, which can be and is felt by everyone. This produces a very particular feeling in us when it arrives, and so we are all capable of relating to it, and to the experience of it.
To begin with I have the feeling that honour is very often associated with ‘doing the right thing’. And maybe this is where the great hope is, because we are each of us equipped with this marvelous thing we call ‘a conscience’, whose job seems to be to constantly tell us what the right thing is, if we listen to it. And everybody has one. The next thing that is associated with it is ‘the reasons why we do the things we do’. So a beginning definition of honour I have for myself is, ‘to do the right thing for the right reason’, and often what comes into it as well is, ‘at the time it needs to be done’.
When my conscience tells me that something is the right thing to do, and I feel I can do it for a good reason, then in the action of doing it, a feeling arrives as a side effect. It can easily be missed, because it is sometimes subtle, but it’s the feeling that honour produces; which is why we have the term ‘feeling honourable’ about doing something. Feeling honourable also carries with it a feeling of being clean. So when I think about what it means to lead a clean life, I can use that feeling of honour as an internal compass, knowing that if I ‘do the right thing, for the right reason’, I can feel clean and honourable about it, and about myself.
I think honour is one of the important things in life, I know it is for me. I ask myself, ‘so, what is so important about honour? Why is it there in the first place?’ These are big questions, but something gave us a conscience, which says to me that conscience is very important to whatever made us humans as we are in the first place. We are equipped, all of us, with an inbuilt knowing about what is right and what is wrong, which makes us able to rise above barbarism and cruelty, and allows us to refine, and become better people, to produce great art and science, and all the other great things, which we associate with being human.
These have mostly been my thoughts about personal honour, but I have also thought about the honour of a group of people, or a nation, or of the whole of the human race. Most of us have probably, at some point in our lives, felt a bonding and a special feeling, about the place we live, or the place we were born, and a particular sense of genuine pride when we think our nation has done ‘the right thing’, and this is where we can get a glimpse of honour as something larger than how it sits in each one of us. I think honour is a very important attribute of human life and that it is a part of our true moral compass, which drives us to improve as individuals, and as a human race.
Thelma Bishop has full experience of this age grouping. She is a grandmother and full-time Reception Co-ordinator in a company of Trade Mark Attorneys in London, UK.
I would think that all people, whether they realise it or no, have honour. It is said that always it’s the reason why you do what you do. For example, to want to ‘pay one’s way’ can either come from conformity - what other people will think of you if you don’t - or it can come from the Honour that lives inside a person. And only you yourself will know the difference, because honour is an INNER thing, a private, personal thing. And you can actually feel the difference within yourself. The act of ‘paying one’s way’ is exactly the same act seen from the outside, whether you are doing it for the sake of conformity or from honour, but YOU will be able to tell the difference because of how it feels inside you. Coming from honour feels different. There must be many different kinds of honour, and many different ways in which it expresses itself.
When I decided to write this piece for Topaz, I mentioned this to a friend saying, “I’d really like to write something about Honour, but I’m not quite sure how to write about honour in my age group?” And she said, with a twinkle in her eye, “How can you write from anywhere else?” which seems reasonable, so here goes.
Honour is an inner essence and coding property that gives a person surety and security, because of what they themselves hold to be sacred.
There is a phrase in the long line of the human story that says, ‘death before dishonour’, which gives some idea of the strength of honour that people can manufacture and nurture in themselves, if they want to. It may well be that to a ‘person of honour’ physical death would be far more preferable than to die inside, because honour is an inner living ‘holding true’ that the person is, and has become. This is how they recognise and know themselves, so not to ‘have’ it, or to go against what they are, is to ‘die’ to themselves. It’s a very powerful thing, a sacred property which is totally individual to each life. Very much to do with what one simply will not do, and what one therefore must do. It’s the light by which a person knows who they are.
At this age, 54, I know that I go forward in the light of the honour that has been done, and look forward to the honour yet to be won, knowing that there are many things that may survive after physical death. Honour is one of them.
Having thought about it, I don’t think that there’s natural honour and unnatural honour. Honour is honour. And it seems that honour exists to uphold something else. So the question is, ‘what does honour uphold, and is this natural or unnatural?’, for example it is said that there can be ‘honour amongst thieves’.
So it’s what the honour is upholding that is in question and this is the responsibility of the person to discover for themselves. Of course, for a person who is seeking the truth of life and living, it’s a lifetime’s journey in a step by step way, to discover what there is for them to want to be able to uphold.
Alison Reynolds is in the middle of this particular age group and holds workshops with people of this age group in England.
It starts to become apparent at this age that things are changing. You no longer have the same vigour as in youth, the memory is not quite as sharp as it was, you may even start to drive the car a bit slower, nothing acute, but intimations that things are beginning to slow down. At the same time other features are coming into play, there is greater wisdom, less naivety about the world and people, much experience has been had. All of this can lead to a wealth of understanding and ability and skill in many different areas, from helping with the first grandchild to invaluable business experience.
I also feel it is an age when settlement needs to be come to about what has happened in our life so far, and what now is possible. We all have hopes and dreams and aspirations when we are young, some definite, others more vague and undefined, but as we go through the turbulent middle years of life it often does not work out quite how we thought it would. It feels in this age as though you have moved into calmer waters, one where you can begin to review what you have done in your life, what you have experienced, what living has wrought upon you, and to begin to draw the threads together, to come to a settlement about it all, that what is done is done, and it is time to move on to the next phase of life.
And this is where honour sits, for out of the many years will have been squeezed certain values, standards, beliefs, hopes and certainties, and it is to these that the honour of upholdance is due. So how would this practically manifest, for honour is not simply felt, it is an active principle in a life.
As at any age, it would show itself in what is being done and the reasons why it is being done. However at this age there is an element of protection that comes in. At this age there is a strength of feeling and passion about those things you have built inside, the views you hold, the values you have come to, that is different to the fiery passion of youth, it is deeper, more solid and anchored. There is a surety and certainty about what you hold dear, what is of importance, and so you look to see how it can be safeguarded, how it can be given the best circumstance in which to grow, how it can be protected and brought to fruition. It still needs to be worked for, but at this age it is more to do with deepening and strengthening of all that has gone on before.
This is not an age of moving toward an ending, but one of a different beginning, where in these calmer waters the deeper issues of what it means to be alive can be looked at from a strong foundation of experience.
Meike Beekhuizen is co-founder of ‘The Ring of Wisdom’, a group of older participants within the Template Stichting in the Netherlands and the Template Network world wide.
Someone asked me,“What is wisdom?” I said, “It is to gather as much experience as possible in your life, and then to choose what you want to carry in your backpack; and then to use it; learn from it; apply it; distil questions from it, and polish the qualities.”
When I was just a child I heard people say about my father, ‘He is a man of honour and utter righteousness.’ And about my mother they said, ‘She respects his stance.’ I did not agree with this then, because I thought, ‘a little lie now and then makes life much easier.’ I found my father too severe and my mother too soft and therefore weak.
Now I am far past seventy and as I look back I see that my father was a man of courage, a man of honour, who held righteousness high and therefore did not have an easy life. His behaviour was a mirror to other people but they preferred not to look into it because it required a lot of will power.
My mother, who recognised and acknowledged the qualities of honour and righteousness in my father, formed a bridge to her children. And she did that by now and then letting us have our little lies. She did this because she saw that we children still had to build our own will power. Every so often we tripped over, because the fundamental bricks in life still had to be laid.
Now I see my father - A Rock, and my mother as Mother Earth.
A summary of honour through the seven stages of life
If a new born baby could speak, it would perhaps have this to say, about honour at that age: As I am born into this life, with this strange new body, this versatile vehicle, with all this power, could someone, anyone, teach me something useful that I can do with it all? I want to try as many things as possible. Can someone help me to be successful and useful to myself, to others? I feel no honour in lying still in bed for the rest of my life, I am very, very eager to learn as many arts and skills, manners and ways that work, as possible. I am really open to do all that! I don’t feel honour in dispensing my energies wildly and without rhyme or reason, because it makes me unsuccessful, not wanted, rejected. Please, someone, anyone teach me some really, really great ways to live!
Then at puberty the child would, perhaps, say if it could: I know there are stupid things and wise things. Why don’t you give me many wise things to choose from? Why do you always have to point me towards the way you want it? I want to exercise my own choices. Because in doing that, I make contact with my honour. So can anyone give me lots of choices that are all wise, all successful, all possible, so I can fashion my own life from them. And SHOW me why the stupid things are stupid, don’t lecture me about it. Otherwise I might choose them as my bible, because it gives me my honour to have decided it for myself, stupid or not.
At the early ages of adulthood the person might say: There are so many questions that I have. Can anyone help me with finding the important ones? And, if it’s not too much to ask, could I get some ways and means about finding answers to the questions I have. I don’t want anyone else’s answers, I just want inspiring ways that will help me to find them for myself. Because in finding the important questions and in being able to answer them for myself, I will be able to make contact with the honour that gives me a sense of who I am, the honour of a useful identity.
At middle age the person may say about their honour: Give me someone to sharpen my wits. Give me other people to test the honour that I have formed so far. Give me someone that can show me my flaws, without destroying me, someone that is willing to challenge me, to help me reform myself and grow a stronger more experienced honour through better reasoning.
Then the tone of the person would change after 45 in relation to honour: For me, honour lives in what I can give, in how I can help, in offering leadership to others and service and exampleship and encouragement.
The honour in the person after 55 perhaps would say: I want to give, serve, lead, if it helps, and not if it doesn’t. There is no honour in helping others if it doesn’t bring them honour, even if they want to be helped, from motives lesser to honour.
The honour in the person after 70 would perhaps say: I am available. I am the reflection of my honour.