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Honor, And The Weight Of Our Word

BY MICHAEL REISIG

When I watch old movies and read novels of ancient places I am reminded of how important honor was to people in earlier times. How often I see or read of people giving their word through a handshake or taking an oath on a saint or in the name of their king, or being forced to take an oath on their God – and all of them recognizing the weight and significance of that act, their faces carved with the sanctity of the moment. Because giving their word meant something.

Today, from the playground to the campus, and on to the halls of Congress, pledges of our word, and the value of honor, have faded to a gossamer pale. There is no meat in verbal commitment. We hardly ever discuss virtue anymore. All our attention goes to the miscreant, and the exotic villain. Our song lyrics aggrandize the hipster and the gangster. We should all remember what Confucius said: “To be honored in an unjust society is a disgrace.”

We are living in a confusing time, where honor and law don’t always stand on the same side, and we have begun to venerate individuals and popular causes more than truth. It’s a dangerous precedence. Throughout time we have seen societies rise (or stoop) to a point where honor and law no longer seemed to stand on the same side – each one fell because the pillars of a righteous society cannot stand for long without integrity.

I have always loved the quote by Karl Maeser, founder of Brigham Young University: “I have been asked what I mean by “word of honor.” I will tell you. Place me behind prison walls – walls of stone ever so high, ever so thick, reaching ever so far into the ground – there is a possibility that in some way or another I might be able to escape; but stand me on the floor and draw a chalk line around me and have me give my word of honor never to cross it. Can I get out of that circle? No, never! I’d die first.”

Wrapped in a velvet tyranny of self-indulgence we have become a myopic society – we can see no farther than our next paycheck or the next hip trend. We desperately want to be part of something – as long as it’s not too taxing.

I would like to see honor become a fad – I’d like to see a handshake emerge as a genuine statement of commitment. I’d love to see truth become cool.  If we suddenly had an epiphany and conscience became our north star, think where we could go.