, Newburyport, MA


July 14, 2014

Points of honor

When I was in college (a distressingly long time ago), the first important thing I learned was that examinations were not proctored because every student was required to conclude the exam with the words, “I pledge my honor as a gentleman that during this examination I have neither given nor received assistance.”

To my recollection the possibility of cheating never arose at all among my fellow students even though there were no monitors in the exam room. Each of us took this pledge to be a critical personal commitment not to cheat. (Although some serious exam cheating scandals have been reported, an honor code does promote a “culture of integrity” — June 1, Huffington Post.)

Basically, “honor” (to paraphrase means honesty, fairness or integrity in one’s beliefs and actions and the credit, distinction and respect one receives for such conduct. It has many uses, and shows up in scores of phrases such as “scout’s honor,” “honor your partner,” “honor a check,” “do the honors” and “honor thy father and thy mother.”

Over the centuries honor has held life-and-death connotations. Shakespeare represents Caesar as saying “I love the name of honor more than I fear death.” He may have inspired his legions with the words “Death before dishonor!” Since then millions may have died in the service of this adage, which can relate to personal, family or national “honor.” The Japanese samurai’s code of honor was defined as a vivid consciousness of personal dignity and worth.”

While I cannot do justice to such a powerful, many-sided word as “honor,” I can suggest that it never be accepted uncritically nor taken at face value, but rather it should always be related to one’s own knowledge and experience of honor and to one’s own unique personal code of honor, which I expect we all have and rarely think about. The following are think-pieces about honor, one deadly serious, the other quite amusing.

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