“To esteem everything is to esteem nothing” (Molière).
A PERSON IS NOT HONORABLE IF EVERYTHING THAT PERSON ENCOUNTERS IS GIVEN EQUAL HONOR. The fact is, some things, and even some people, are more praiseworthy than others. Distinguishing what is praiseworthy from what is not, and relating oneself accordingly, is one of life’s major responsibilities. True, it takes humility, wisdom, and carefulness to make proper evaluations, and we should all stand ready to be corrected and have our decisions improved. But value judgments must still be made, and the person who won’t make them has less regard for honor than he should have.
We live in an age all but obsessed with “self-image.” But a healthy self-image doesn’t come from being told that we’re wonderful regardless of the evidence of our conduct. Instead, it comes from honoring what is honorable outside of ourselves and then keeping our conduct consistent with that ideal. If we know we’re not acting honorably, we not only won’t feel good about ourselves, but we shouldn’t feel that way. Conscience is always the key to self-esteem.
Frankly, we all find ourselves now and then in the position of having acted dishonorably. In this position, the honorable person will act honorably toward the dishonor that he’s done! He will acknowledge it without excuse and try to rectify it in every way possible. There is nobody in the world who doesn’t fall into dishonor occasionally, but it’s the next step that’s critical. With that step, we either redeem our honor or bury it more deeply in the dirt. In fact, there may be no greater test of our honor than what we do in the face of failure.
Given the difficulty of repairing our honor when it’s been damaged, it makes sense to live so that it doesn’t have to be repaired very often. When we’re tempted to compromise our convictions, we must learn to say no. Our souls must not be for sale. There must be limits beyond which we simply will not go. Based on new learning, we may need to adjust those limits and refine them, but we dare not dispense with them for the sake of expediency or even urgency. If we’re wise, we won’t let go of our honor — “not no way, not no how.”
“Never give in — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — except to convictions of honor and good sense” (Winston Churchill).