“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” – The Declaration of Independence, July 4th, 1776
The loss of manliness in our present era may be summed up in the words we no longer use: honor, duty, reverence, integrity, sacrifice, industry, respect. We have waded far from the coast of character which men once defended to their last, and have nearly lost sight of the shoreline. I’m reading 1776 by David McCullough and am so moved by the words men chose to use when corresponding with each other. What, perhaps, stands out to me more is the common understanding they had for those words of virtue, and I have to wonder if a man should stand speak in that old manner, how many people would be inspired, and how many would be utterly befuddled. I am hopeful, however, that this way of thinking simply needs some reawakening, and I aim to make a vigorous attempt.
What Makes Honor Sacred?
The idea of honor is as old as our knowledge of human history. The original meanings seem to stem from the honoring of royalties in the form of gifts. For example, foreign dignitaries would bring gifts to various rulers as a means of honoring them, physically increasing their wealth and value. Contrary to how we often use the term honor today, as a philosophical virtue, honoring was a practical means of increasing the worth of an esteemed person. Now we honor people with our words, such as an eulogy, honor ourselves with our actions, and honor God with our lives. We still honor people with gifts, but we don’t associate it with honor in the way we used to.
What makes honor sacred is the correlation to worth, be it actual wealth or character. That we have moved to character, which resides in the moral and philosophical realms of thought, means that we have found a deeper meaning in what it means to have worth or to be worthy. And, that we value our own worth — and fear the decreasing of our worth — as men, makes it sacred. Though God will have his account of our value to Him, and has made it evident that he counts us of some great worth not due to our own merits, history will judge men on different terms.
Honor is part of our legacy; enduring outside of our own allotted time. And it is this type of honor-legacy that the patriots of American independence signed their names to. They were well aware that if they did not win the battle of independence, they would be dishonored, executed as traitors to the crown. History would have remembered them as foolish men who embarked on an insurmountable quest, all to hurry along an independence which would likely have happened over time anyhow.
The Virtues of an Honorable Man
“In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.” – C.S. Lewis, Christian Apologist & Author
While honor itself may be considered a virtue, to be honored or to be worthy of honor means to hold to a set of virtues. The more virtuous a man, the more honorable he is, though it is helpful to look at the particular virtues that most define the honorable man.
If a man does not have respect for himself and for others, he will not be admired nor honored. Disrespecting others, whether intentional or not, is a sure way for a man to dishonor himself. I have known a number of men whom I esteemed highly in some regard until I saw how they spoke to their wife or their children, or dismissed the thoughts of others.
If a man desires to be honorable, he must have the courage to stand by his convictions, and stand in the place of others who lack the nerve to do so. An honorable man sets the example of bravery and inspires others to follow suit.
Theodore Roosevelt’s father, Thee as he was known, was a very charitable and honorable man. Being a man of means who came from a poorer family, he pitied those who were less fortunate and made it his life’s work to care for those who could not care for themselves. Bound up in the virtue of charity are many other great qualities: humility, consideration for others, faithfulness, compassion, and so on. Charity, true charity of the heart, may be one of the greatest character traits a man can possess.
The honorable man endures times of hardship and trial with persistent courage. He sees his plans through and can be relied upon to stand firm under adversity. This is quite the manly trait, similar to grit and hardihood, but fortitude brings to mind a fearless and tireless endurance.
If a man is without honesty and integrity, he cannot be considered an honorable man. A man who lives by a code of dishonesty shames himself and shows a lack of consideration for others. With honesty, a man adds to his honor, and without, nearly every positive virtue he may possess is marred.
Humility ties in very closely to the virtues of Respect and Charity. It is a consideration of ourselves that limits the degree to which we see ourselves above others. Humility is a pride-fighter and as the proverb states, pride surely comes before the fall.
If a man cannot be counted on, what good is he? An unreliable man lacks consideration of others and of his own honor. Men, be reliable in your words and deeds. See the plan through, whatever it may be, and, most of all, never make excuses for your unreliability. Humility is a great repairer of honor.
Being a man and having an understanding of our honor and the state of our honor among other men go hand in hand. However, it is important to not equate honor with social acceptance, as so many do. We should also keep in mind that, try as we might to be good men, we will fail, and how we react to that failure will either add to or detract from our honor.