Why Honor Matters; Revitalizing an ancient virtue in today’s classroom

While the idea of honor may seem outdated, Robert Kenneth Jones makes a convincing case why it’s still critical to modern society. Properly channeled, honor encourages virtues like courage, integrity, and solidarity, and gives a sense of living for something larger than oneself.  Read on and consider the many ways to introduce young people to this ancient, yet essential quality of life.  

President Jimmy Carter sent out a public statement mourning the death of Senator John McCain.  He said that McCain was “a man of honor, a true patriot in the best sense of the word. Americans will be forever grateful for his heroic military service and for his steadfast integrity as a member of the United States Senate.” 

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Soon, dozens of such tributes poured in.  Each of them with similar sentiments about the Senator.  It has been a long time since I remember hearing so many references to honor. Not so many years ago, this word was much more commonplace.  I remember my father telling me that honor was the most important thing a person could strive for. He made sure that I memorized the Boy Scout Oath and knew the Scout Law.

“On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country, to obey the Scout Law, to help other people at all times, to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.” ~ The Scout Oath

He instilled in me a sense of sacred duty.  Though never a very enthusiastic scout, I always held the importance of honor close to my heart. So the many notable mentions of McCain’s honor make me hope that there is a resurgence of interest in the subject.  If that resurgence is to happen, it is up to the adult community to fuel the effort by teaching and modeling honor to our young people.

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A Definition of Honor

Honor has been described as an ‘abstract concept’ but it is not.  It is far from abstract.  Though complex, honor is tangible, understandable, and easily recognizable.   Honor is having a sense of right and wrong.  It is standing up for what you believe is right.  It is the about showing great respect for yourself, other people, and the rules you live by. It means trying to live by seven essential values which are:

  1. Faith: a belief in something bigger than yourself.
  2. Hope:  a belief that good will prevail.
  3. Charity: concern for others. Always helping them in times of need.
  4. Fortitude: never giving up.
  5. Justice: being fair, equitable and merciful to others.
  6. Prudence: being careful with and mindful of all our resources.
  7. Temperance: moderation in all things.
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Developing a Personal Code of Honor

Honor is the measure of a person’s quality. It is at the core of who we are and who we aspire to be. When you are honorable, you don’t have to feel ashamed of who you are or what you are doing. You are worthy of respect. What a good reason to become an honorable person.

Once upon a time, many schools had honor codes which were outlined in student handbooks and signed at the beginning of the academic year.  People pledged not to lie, cheat, steal, or plagiarize as well as to act responsibly in all personal endeavors.  These behavioral standards were the minimum expectation and kids were expected to report others who violated the code.  It seems that these codes are fading from schools according to the New York Times. Apparently, successful report cards are a higher priority than character building nowadays.  With this in mind, it is very important that mentors, parents, teachers, coaches, pastors and other key adults in the lives of kids help them to understand and develop a personal code of honor.  We are responsible for helping motivate ethical and moral conduct which will guide them as they grow up. One way to do this is to teach young people how to develop such a code.

Creating a code of honor is simple but takes a little work and some self-reflection.  I always start out with these basic statements for inspiration:

  • I want to be the kind of person who has the courage to stand up for myself and for my beliefs.
  • I want to be the kind of person who will be loyal to my friends and rescue them from trouble when they need me.
  • I want to be known for always doing my best.
  • I want to be known as honest and dependable.
  • I want to be respected.
  • I want to be known for being a good citizen at school, at work, and in my community.
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The first step in developing a personal code is to write it down so you can look at it as a reminder of what you believe and as an encouragement to follow your plan.  Here is a guideline for creating that document.

  1. Who do I say that I am? Think of it like this. If you asked a friend to describe you, what would they say? An example of this would be someone saying to you that you are friendly, helpful, or kind. List all the qualities that other people might have pointed out to you.
  2. What do I believe? Make a list of all of your moral principles and beliefs. Write down as many personal beliefs as you can. These are the beliefs that you carry through everyday life and define the way you make good decisions.
  3. Why do I believe what I believe? Religious beliefs may have come from places of worship or scriptures. Political beliefs may have come from parents, friends, TV or social media.  Other beliefs may have been formed in sports or other activities.  Knowing where your beliefs come from is essential because it may inform you as to how important they are.
  4. How do I act around people at school, work or play? Write down what you like about the way you relate to others and what you might like to change. There are always things to improve and eliminate like misleading people, gossip and little deceptions.

This is about all of the information you need to start a personal code of honor.  It will take some time to think about what you want to include and what you don’t, but this is the foundation for it.

Start out by writing a purpose or overview of your code of honor which will inspire you to live according to your principles.  The only requirement is that the purpose is tailored to fit you and your needs.

The second part of your code is the “I will and will not” section in which you go through the list of qualities you made of how others see you and how you see yourself.  Many of these qualities will match up with what you believe.  It should contain the rules you expect yourself to follow when dealing with other people.

Follow these two steps with a question which will help you be even more honorable tomorrow. 

Here is an example of a personal code:

My Code of Honor

Purpose: I want to be a good citizen who is valued, trusted and respected in all of my affairs.

Personal Rules of Conduct

  • I will be kind
  • I will be generous
  • I will be honest
  • I will be dependable
  • I will stand up for myself and what I believe
  • I will be a good friend
  • I will always try to do my best
  • I will not judge others
  • I will not cheat
  • I will not steal
  • I will not harm other people physically, emotionally, or sexually
  • I will not blame others for my mistakes

Daily Question: How or what will I change tomorrow based on what I learned today?

Once you are done writing the first draft, look it over and refine it as necessary,  You will be adjusting it as changes occur in your life. But the basics will remain the same. Make a pledge to keep the promises made in your code of honor.  It should be a binding contract with yourself. This pledge will help you gain greater respect.  It will increase your sense of self-worth, credibility and moral direction.  You will be known as an honorable person.

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Our Legacy of Honor

There was a time when a person’s honor was the bedrock of character.  Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton fought a duel over it.  Burr’s character was savagely attacked by Hamilton during a gubernatorial election.  He resolved to restore his reputation by challenging Hamilton to a duel, or an “affair of honor,” as they were known. Though such drastic measures are ridiculously unnecessary, the point is well made by our founders that honor was of the utmost importance.  We have gone far astern from those days.  But we can still impart a sense of honor in these modern times,

The kind of legacy will we leave our children depends directly upon our commitment to it. A dedicated effort on our part can and will leave a lasting impression.  We want for the love that we have given to endure forever.  We want for our work to have made the world a little better than we found it.  Wouldn’t it also be great to have bestowed a sense of honor that guides the character and conduct of our children and grandchildren!  If, indeed, this is an age in which the virtues of honor have become a relic of the past, then it is up to us to restore it.

Posted by Robert Jones

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