Let me first begin this missive by telling you what this post is not about. It is not about honor in the sense of violent reprisal or warrior spirit. It is not about the honor of taking offense the way a Klingon might if you insulted their spouse. I’m not interested in dueling pistols or swords at dawn and I certainly don’t intend to have a discussion of pride. The honor I wish to speak of may have its roots in the same mud but grows along a different path towards the sun.
To quote George R.R. Martin, “Words are wind.” There is so much that is lost in spoken language that I sometimes wonder whether we shouldn’t have skipped right over language and gone straight to some kind of telepathic thought exchange made of pictures and impressions. No doubt it would be far more honest than even my own humble and heartfelt words might express. As nice as that fantasy is, I find it unlikely that our species would find the sudden onset of telepathic abilities any less distressing than a full out zombie apocalypse with a lack of defensive armament. So probably best to put that aside for now.
When I began setting down my ideas for this post, I wanted to talk about the words that contribute to my own definition of the term “Honor” and why they feel so important. I thought of words like “Respect,” “Truth,” “Justice,” “Honesty,” and “Sincerity.” As I drove home with that handwritten draft folded neatly in my bag and awaiting redrafting to the digital medium, I realized that all of these words, while powerful, have a commonality I had overlooked. They are all bridges to relationship.
At Druid College, we talk about “edge work.” Edge work is the practice of blending our own edges with the edges of another being. It might be our spouse or partner, a family pet, a squirrel, a tree, a bush or any number of other beings that we might come into contact – or even a semblance of contact – with. The idea here is always to craft a gift exchange relationship with other beings.
The gift exchange relationship is an honoring of the sharing between beings. It is ensuring that both receive a benefit from the transaction between edges. It is a manner of understanding our own edges and how they interact with other edges. So to me, Honor is about the gift exchange relationship. When we interact with another being, there is always a transaction that occurs on some level. Perhaps you notice an attractive stranger and hope to catch a glance and a smile from them. This is edge work, this is a transaction between beings.
Edge work though can (and probably should) go much deeper than this. It is a blending of edges with nearly any being one might come into contact with. The trees, the hills, the Earth, the land. Even our feet as we walk across the bosom of the Earth is a transaction that we often take for granted.
If we pare it down though, most beings who interact with one another want something from that interaction. When we look outside to the untamed wild, our cousins there interact frequently and the biological organization of nature insists that a level of gift exchange occur. Wolves on the hunt cull the deer herd of the sick and elderly allowing the strong and young to prosper. In essence, both predator and prey benefit from this transaction, it is only our human propensity for emotion that places a human face on the “suffering” of nature. So here we have an excellent example of how even (by human standards at least) what seems like a terrible, horrible thing, has a great value to the untamed wild that our ancestors lived and died in. More than that though, their myths and stories tried to understand the wild, untamed earth upon which they walked and the sometimes senseless manner in which it chose life or reclaimed it. Nonetheless, this is a gift exchange, a clear and honest relationship.
What I have discovered from my journeying and meditation is that Honor comes from honest relationship. One cannot be honorable if they are not honest with themselves. The bear or the fox have no self image problems, they never doubt what they are. One cannot project their own honor if they are not honest with the beings they seek to craft relationship with. So the deer never wonder whether the wolves are wolves. In both cases though, we are talking about relationship, first with oneself and then with others. I often find that the word “Honor” and the word “Ego” are used in place of one another which leads to the type of mentality mentioned earlier in this post with two people meeting at dawn with pistols or blades (or any of the other forms of mutually assured destruction that are out there to be utilized for the same purposes).
Often, when I find myself angry or frustrated, I find that it is my ego that talks me into it and my honor that talks me out of it. Who hasn’t been angry with a spouse, partner or friend? I have been angry with all three, sometimes at the same time! An exploration of that anger, though, often leads me to the truth of it. My ego has somehow been bruised, my cultural or community standing questioned. When this happens, it is not always easy to see past the red. I have certainly gotten better, I am by no means perfect. Then again, I forgive myself for that because I am human and my emotions keep me human. In those times though, engaging in relationship with the people that make me angry often removes the cloud of that emotion from my thoughts and gives me greater insight into my own misgivings.
To me, the path to Honor is a path of honesty with oneself which then becomes a path of honesty with others in the delicate intricacies of edge work. So Honor is also patient relationship.
I thought, at one point, to use the term “respectful relationship” rather than honest relationship but there is a truth that underlies those words and essentially unhinges them. I can respect someone without having a relationship with them (I never knew Martin Luther King Jr.). Likewise, I can have a relationship with someone and not respect them (my old boss). In both cases, I can form a relationship that is honest. I can respect someone I have never met when I understand that my honest relationship is limited to what I know about them, remembering that I don’t know everything about them. Likewise, I can have an honest relationship with someone I don’t like by accepting that I cannot change them to suit my needs, no matter how much I feel trying to do so might benefit them.
This comes from understanding that they do not wish to blend their edges with my own in a way that suits me. If I let go of that expectation, though, I can have honest relationship with them that benefits both of us and that is honorable. Even with our enemies we can share honor. So there too, Honor is sharing.
I would be lying if I expected that everyone who reads these words who didn’t feel this way about honor prior to reading them will suddenly jump up and yell “Dad GUM! I think he’s done it!” Honor, like so many other words in the English language, is highly subjective and I am certain that there are at least a few who will scoff at the idea that Honor needn’t be linked to violent reprisal for its offense.
I hope merely to offer another perspective, one in which the way of peace supersedes the desire for hostility. It is my belief that honest relationship is the key to the term “Honor” and even though there are times that I struggle with my own ego over its assertion that my honor has been affronted, remaining true and honest to myself and to others that I form those relationships with is what leads me back to the central path from the divergences of modern day life.
In summation and to reiterate my point perhaps more clearly than the above missive; I believe that Honor is patient, honest relationship with oneself that is shared with those one interacts with. It is just exactly this kind of honor that, in my opinion, we need to maintain in the course of our interactions if our community is to continue thriving. I honor you, I hope only that you honor me as well.
So, I will leave you with some impressions, some images that come to mind, of honest, patient, shared relationship that perhaps you may ruminate upon in times when it bears reminding that the honor we seek can be found all around us in our wild hearts and the wild hearts of everything around us.
The sun climbs into the eastern sky at daybreak.
A bear forages in the stream for leaping salmon, snapping one out of thin air as another bounces off of the bear’s nose and he drops both.
Beneath the ground, bacteria blossom in the decaying form of a deer that failed to navigate a log and broke its leg.
A woman looks at her partner and realizes how much she loves them.
A wind blows the trees around in a sudden gust and they wave at the sky as though saying hello to a long lost friend.
There is a picket fence that has fallen over in a field and flowers grow through gaps that used to keep the sheep from wandering too far from the safety of the farm.
A rock, worn by millions of years of wind and water, tumbles into an icy brook.
An Oak tree deep in the forest produces oxygen as it has done in increasing amounts for 50 cycles of the sun. At its base, a lone person sits and listens to the creaking of its body, the sway of its leaves in the summer air. The tree speaks in a language slower than the glaciers, older than the stones and deeper than the hidden waters its roots strain to reach. The squirrels trace scuttling tracks across its branches, birds nest in its spread twigs. All of them listen for the wisdom it speaks out of the Land where its roots are buried deep in the Earth.