“Honour and shame from no condition rise. Act well your part, there all honour lies”
“Men honour what lies within the sphere of their knowledge, but do not realise how dependent they are on what lies beyond it”
What do the following people have in common?
The artists LS Lowry and David Hockney, the actors Bill Nighy and John Cleese, the actress Honor Blackman and the jazz musician/radio presenter Humphrey Lyttleton?
They’ve all refused an “honour” from the British government/monarchy.
The poet Benjamin Zephaniah famously refused his honour because of the “Empire” word within ‘MBE’, and how it reminded him of the dishonour afforded to his forefathers (and foremothers) during years of slavery and brutality. The playwright George Bernard Shaw refused an honour too, partly because of his socialist principles but also because he felt an acceptance of merit in his work was the only honour he needed.
But are these awards really “honours”? Are we more likely to honour, value and respect someone more if they have a series of capital letters of “honours” after their name? Is there honour in refusing an “honour”?
There’s a difference between “honour” and “respect”. We may respect someone or something without honouring them, without bestowing the gift of a title. Honouring something or someone is to afford your personal value to them. Honouring someone means that not only do you respect them but you hold them in high esteem, you value them – but it doesn’t mean you are subservient to them. True honour isn’t hierarchical.
We often use words in such peculiar ways when we truly delve into their real meaning. “Honour killing”? “The Right Honourable Member of Parliament”?
What is honourable about killing? When can it be honourable to kill? Why does serving in a cabinet office in Whitehall make a person more honourable than a nurse who has dedicated her life to caring for people or a teacher who has chosen to ‘serve’ the nation through enabling young people to learn?
What of the quote above regarding the honour of what we know? We seem to honour what we know without looking beyond to see what honour there is in the unknown. Yesterday we talked about open-mindedness, and sometimes it’s difficult to comprehend the unknown, yet real honour lies in something that isn’t quantifiable, isn’t concrete and isn’t decided upon by other people.