Do not consider anything for your interest which makes you break your word, quit your modesty, or inclines you to any practice which will not bear the light, or look the world in the face.
Author and blogger Brett McKay once summed up the definition of honor in one of the most concise and easily understood ways I have ever heard or read. He writes,
“Honor pulls and bonds together all the other virtues; it is the mark of a man who has successfully integrated all good principles. His life is a unified whole. The man of honor is loyal, faithful, and true; he keeps his promises and fulfills his duties. His word is his bond. He does the right thing, even when no one else is looking.”
In other words, honor is the complete package of virtues that a man can incorporate into his life. Where he is lacking in one, it becomes a mark on his honor as a whole. For example, you may have heard the old adage, “There’s no honor among thieves.” Think about that. Loyalty is an honorable trait but if you’re loyal to a band of thieves because you’re a thief as well, then you have no honor because thieves are not true and honest people and there is no virtue in being loyal to a band of thieves and liars. Loyalty becomes an honorable trait when it is applied to other honorable virtues such as being loyal to a friend who is honest and selfless.
Let me also put it this way – an honorable man is a man who works hard to to collect attributes of virtue that are manifested in the manner of his life; when he sees an opportunity to demonstrate his commitment to honesty, he takes it. He recognizes that the more difficult situation in which to exercise honesty, the higher standard of honor he has and these moments are what he lives for – the opportunity to measure the strength of his virtue.
In the opening quote, Marcus Aurelius reminds us that our honor is what helps us look the world in the face. Sometimes we make decisions that people don’t understand for one reason or another and rather than try to understand, they make assumptions or jump to conclusions about the ulterior motives they are just sure you have. When this happens, we can derive strength from our honor knowing that we did the right thing in spite of what the naysayers and backbiters would like others to believe. These moments will come in your life and it is important to place an emphasis on your honor today because you might need to fall back on it tomorrow.
Honor is something that takes time to build. Even if you don’t think you measure up, just keep in mind that it is never too late to do honorable things – never. In fact, making the decision to embark on this journey to collect virtuous attributes is in and of itself honorable – that’s a great first step.
Look for an opportunity to demonstrate your honor. This can be going out of your way to be kind to someone, showing a friend your willingness to give up something to be there for him when he needs you, making a promise and keeping it, siding with the truth even when you must change your position to do it, etc.
Reflect on who you are and what is important to you. If you discover that power is more important to you than doing the right thing, remember that until you have power over yourself, you don’t really have any power at all. Instead, empower yourself by placing a high premium on your own personal sense of honor and be in control of building it.
And most importantly, find people who think their honor is important and make them your friends.
Questions to ask yourself:
- How important to me is my own sense of honor?
- Am I likely to sacrifice my honor to keep my popularity?
- Do people see me as an honorable person?
- Who am I comparing myself to to gauge my honor?