I hear the word “honor” bandied about throughout the Pagan Community, and within discussions of Paganism, particular from a “warrior” perspective. When my friend Bill passed away recently, I saw a lot of comments tossed about how his honor was immense and a great aspect of defining who he was. That got me to wondering what was actually being said about Bill. So I dug in a little, and started examining the concept of the word.
The Merriam Webster dictionary refers to honor in many definitions, but the one that seemed to most closely resemble what was being said was “high moral standards of behavior.” Which I would definitely attribute to Bill. He was definitely an individual who lived his life by a moral code that he had developed over the many years he had lived. But, I noticed that there was another layer that could be peeled from all of this: “moral standards of behavior.”
Here, from what I have come to understand, we start getting into not only how an individual approaches ethical and moral issues, but also where they may get their moral compass from. For instance, if you came across an accident that had just happened, what might you be inclined to do? Help out? Call emergency services? Drive right on past the accident? A combination of these? My personal inclination is to call for emergency services, and then try and render aid, if possible. I know my limitations with rendering aid. I do not know how to do CPR, so anything along those lines would be severely limiting in what I could do to help – though I certainly would help with the instruction of another who did know CPR. But my first thought would be to contact emergency services and provide them with information on what had happened, how things stood, where the accident had taken place. For me, my moral compass stands towards helping others where and when I can.
Now some folks may not consider that to be a “moral” issue, but I certainly do. For me, when a life potentially hangs in the balance, and I have the capability of effecting a change in those odds…there’s a moment of moral clarity that occurs for me. How can I help? Can I help? What else can I do?
Back in the late 1990s, I was part of a programming team that went to a contest in Houston, Texas. I know, I know. But despite the fact that it was Houston – I went. I was the primary programmer. On the way back to Shreveport, Louisiana – the folks with whom I was traveling came across a bad accident that had just happened. Small, twisty, two-lane highway road in backwoods Texas. Apparently one car pulled out in front of the other for an automatic t-bone. The three of us immediately piled out of our car and ran to the accident. The car that had pulled out had been slammed back into the ditch, but the driver had been thrown from the vehicle and was in one lane of traffic. The other car was a flat-out mess, but the injured parties there were still in the vehicle. Knowing that my first-aid skills were not the greatest, I let my two companions handle the issues with people. I got down on the ground, looked under the car in the street to assess the potential for any fire. The engine was off, there was fuel, oil, and radiator coolant all over the road. But it looked like the vehicle could sit until the emergency services folks arrived. I noted that to my companions, and moved on to the driver in the street. He was a young kid (early 20s to my late 30s at the time). A bit bloodied from major abrasions on his arms and legs (he was wearing shorts) where he had met the road. I told him to lay down and not move. I took my jacket off and laid it across his chest to keep him warm. In the meantime, I started directing the traffic that was backing up in both lanes. I knew emergency services would get there and need the shoulder on both sides. I remember watching this same scenario happen at Carswell AFB when I was in the Air Force. I watched how the Military Police directed one lane of traffic at a time to facilitate some traffic flow. Knowing that the guy in the traffic lane needed protecting, I went and stood next to him, and started moving traffic from one lane and then the other over and over, until the police arrived. I explained what I was doing to one officer, and stepped out of the way to let him handle that part of the situation. I asked if I was needed for extra help, and when I was told no – I moved back to the front bumper of our car – and waited.
It would have been just as easy for us to force our way through the traffic situation, and continue on our way to Shreveport. But we stopped, and rendered aid. Because it was the correct behavior to do. Not because we had been taught to do that. Not because its what we would have wanted, if we had been in the accident. We did it because it was the correct thing to do. The honorable thing. It was part of our moral compasses. One Pagan. One Christian. One Atheist. Our religious beliefs helped to reinforce what we believed, but it wasn’t the be-all, end-all of how we handled ourselves.
And believe it or not, actions like that happen every single day across the world. And certainly, actions that have no honorable intention occur as well. We fight wars, countries utilize extensive force to back the laws of the country – sometimes far beyond what is necessary. Lack of honor exists just as much as honor itself does. But this begs the question – is doing the right thing the same as doing the honorable thing?
Well, there’s another side of honor. Paying respect. Acknowledging your ancestors and how they are a part of you. Showing respect of the Gods, Goddesses, Spirits of Place, and our feathered, scaled, furred, and finned brothers and sisters. As an example, a measure of respect that I provide to both Coyote and Crow is leaving a small amount of tobacco in places where I feel their presence, along with prayer of thanks – acknowledging who and what they are in my daily walk. It may not seem like much, but it certainly feels like the appropriate thing to do.
Now, I know there are going to be those that will decry what I have written here. Some will say I have said too much, others will say that I have said too little, some will say that I am confusing my concepts with something else. Believe me, I complete grok what those folks are getting at. Understanding honor is a lot more than an essay or a set of examples. Its a long, honest conversation between folks seated around a fire on a clear, starry night – each with a drink of choice in their hand. And the Gods and Goddesses and the Spirits of Place, and the local animal populace seated just in the area where shadow and light meet – listening to the conversation at hand. Its hard to have that here on a blog. But invite me to your fires….you never know, I might come out. After all, I drove nearly ten hours in a single day to spend with an awesome conversationalist at a picnic table, in the rain, at the Austin Pagan Pride Day – all for an interview I was extremely proud to bring to all of you on the Podcast. Driving distance is just a concept….that journey can lead to so much more. I’m willing to experience it….