Honor is the principle guiding philosophy in my life. It is what keeps me from hiding from the consequences of my actions; it keeps me from stealing, and from participating in the willful destruction of other people’s property. Growing up in a somewhat provincial neighborhood those options are for some a regularly practiced form of entertainment.
There are certain things that all people must do in order to maintain their honor and personal integrity in a given situation. If you make a mistake that causes injury to another person or their property, it behooves you as an honorable person to own up to that mistake. To use a driving metaphor, if you back into someone’s car even if no one is not around, any shred of personal integrity should demand that you make things right.
The same principles apply to the largest social issues facing society today. I recently spent time in Thailand near the Burmese border. Burma has a very corrupt government that is actively killing tens of thousands of members of the Shan nation, a native Burmese tribe, in an effort to attain the natural resources that the Shan people control. Attacking one village at a time, Burmese soldiers come in the night, burn the village, poison the food and shoot anyone trying to flee. Those who are not killed are sold into slavery or used as mine sweepers. Mine sweeping is a rather unsavory technique employed by the Burmese army involving driving the captured prisoners ahead of the advancing troops to in order to detonate any unexploded ordinance left by the Shan resistance. After the mines explode the people left alive are often horrible maimed, missing limbs and covered with severe burns. At this point they are no longer any use to the Burmese army, and they are cast to the side of the road and left to die.
Because of this ongoing slaughter over a million illegal Burmese immigrants now live in Thailand. Every day they have to face the possibility that if the police catch them they will be deported back to Burma and then shot by government soldiers. Burma’s government leaders have not had an accurate sense of what is honorable for a very long time.
What constitutes a personal code of honor is influenced by upbringing and the subject’s individual personality. A certain amount of subjectivity is acceptable and even appropriate on some levels, such as small legal transgressions or personal disputes. But in larger issues there is no room for straying from the basic principles of honor: Respect for other people and their cultures, not causing intentional harm to people, and striving to do good on a day to day basis. There is not enough of that in this world.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.