He didn’t ask for anything in writing, though I anticipated he might.
Then there was the financial issue – the real crux of the matter. It wasn’t a blind unwillingness to cooperate on my part. The cost to take the tree down was exorbitant, and I couldn’t afford it.
Flash forward more than a year, and paperwork that arrives at the door courtesy of the Great Municipal Powers That Be, as I am forced to take the tree down, regardless of my financial circumstances. We discuss his fronting the money (no request for anything in writing though I offer it if he wants it); ultimately, I juggle and borrow to cover the first portion of the expense.
So down comes the tree, up goes my debt, and the neighbor, to my surprise, is willing to pay approximately 15% of the total cost when I ask him to contribute. Was the entire process honorable? Was he honorable in paying any portion of the expense?
My Word is My Bond
Did you grow up trusting or suspicious? Were you raised to nail everything down in writing, or seal a deal with a handshake and your word?
I was raised on the latter, and as the saying goes, my word is my bond. Naturally, it happens that circumstances knock me off course, and I may not meet a commitment. But that’s rare.
It’s about integrity, identity, the importance of giving my word and the world as I perceive it and know it to work – which is more efficiently when we strive to act honorably.
Duels, and Dueling Values
If it has to do with money, most people put it in writing. If it has to do with love, they bristle at the very thought.
But aren’t most disputes over love or money?
Enter the prenuptial agreement, which grimly seeks to wed the two.
Prenuptial agreement? Cohabitation agreement? Any sort of agreement in writing? It seems like a reasonable act as we know that disputes arise, unexpected circumstances circumvent the usual pattern of our daily lives, and documents theoretically allow us to honor our agreements – or contingency provisions.
And suddenly I recall those nifty costume dramas we watched as kids. The Bad Guy insults the Lady, and the Hero defends her good name by tossing down the gauntlet and subsequently picking up the sword.
That’s one way to decide an argument, though I can’t say it fits a 21st century lifestyle.
Honor, as in Love, Cherish, etc.
Don’t we all live by a certain code when it comes to relationships? You know what I’m talking about – don’t chase your brother’s girlfriend, don’t take advantage when she’s drunk, don’t seduce another woman’s husband.
Well, some of us live by a code, which we bend to whatever justification suits us. And hey – I’m no angel, so I’m not here to throw stones, though I wonder about marriage vows and how it is that “honor” made its way into them.
Love? Cherish? Those make sense. For that matter, even “obey” in the old school view of gender roles is easy enough to trace. But why honor?
Definitions of Honor
When you seek the definition of the word honor, you find:
honesty, fairness, or integrity in one’s beliefs and actions: a man of honor.
Other mentions include respect, high-esteem, even reverence. Was “honor” in the marriage vows an attempt to require an exchange of respect? How encompassing might we consider any such application of the term?
Can we extend the concept to respect for the other elements of the vows? What about respect for the wholeness of the person you are marrying, and recognition that there are indeed two entities joining together, and each must be accommodated in ways that work – through communication and through compromise?
Man of Honor, Virtue, and Other Concepts
Once upon a time the notion of a man of honor went hand in hand with a woman of virtue. This being the 21st century, we could no doubt debate the meaning of that duo over a few bottles of wine – or a case – and without coming to satisfying conclusions.
“A woman of virtue” in its most basic interpretation sounds silly (it implies chastity and faithfulness; I find the former archaic and the latter admirable). That said, the phrase “a man of honor” does not, though honor would be a virtue, and a man of honor would be a virtuous one – with or without sexual connotations.
These days (in my experience), a “man of honor” seems like a treasure, the Holy Grail – possible, but illusory. I wonder if men (generally) feel the same, when it comes to a woman of honor, or an honest woman, or a “virtuous” one if you prefer – beyond the limited definition I mention.
I would like to think that I am an example of many virtues – including honesty, integrity, compassion, generosity. I consider the ability to give my word and honor it a virtue. Those traits and beliefs which I deem virtuous are not gender-specific; I tend toward seeking out honorable people to call my friends, and perhaps, to love.
To my surprise, the origin of the word virtue derives from Middle English and Old French, meaning maleness and worth (think “virile”), which makes the mix of meanings in its usage intriguing:
moral excellence, goodness, righteousness; conformity of one’s life and conduct to moral and ethical principles; uprightness, rectitude;
It seems that virtue – adherence to moral excellence and ethical principles – was once the very essence of maleness, though what we retain of the notion is a woman’s chastity.
As a culture, we don’t speak of virtues much any longer – for either gender. Why is that? And why isn’t honor among the most important?
Honor Among Thieves
If there is indeed honor among thieves, is it because their very survival depended upon the ability to rely on each other?
How are we – as friends, as lovers, as partners, as parents – any different?
If honor among thieves was a matter of survival (step out of line, and you get your throat slit), I find considerable relevance in today’s world of marital misery and destructive divorce.
We Live the Society That We Create – Daily
I circle back to the premise that honor may seem lofty in its ideals, but it is achievable. Are honesty, fairness, and integrity in one’s actions really so impossible to visualize and act on?
Don’t we choose to be honorable in the nature of our commitments and our willingness to act on them, in honoring our bodies by treating them with respect, in honoring our beliefs by living them to the best of our ability, by honoring our principles with all the gravity that suggests? Doesn’t that include those we love, those we wed, those we parent, those who are in trouble, and those who rely on our word?
As for my neighbor, I am ambivalent around his actions, and I’ll leave it at that.
There are few absolutes and even fewer instances where integrity dictates a simple yes or no. Relationships of every sort are extraordinarily complex; contemporary life bombards us with distractions, temptations, and excuses. We rationalize our behaviors; we recreate our self-image as time passes. There is no “perfection” or one-size-fits all in any set of beliefs or actions, but perhaps if we thought of honor among thieves – that our very survival depends upon our “virtuous” dealings with others – we might be better off.
© D. A. Wolf