The English language is an ever evolving thing. As each new generation defines itself, it often adds new words and phrases to popular speech, while discarding others at the same time. Although these cast-aside items may still exist in the dictionary, for all intents and purposes they may just as well have been banished to the dilithium mines of some desolate galactic outpost. For example, my word processor, which has clearly never seen even a single episode of Star Trek, has just informed me that "dilithium" (crystals of which have been known to power famous star ships) is not a legitimate word.
So it is with honor, both the word and the concept. There was a time when entire societies were built upon the foundation of this single notion. Today, however, should you happen to be one of those antiquated folks who still use the word in everyday speech, you'll more often than not draw curious stares. In less polite circles, they may even ask what planet you're from and why you talk funny.
It's not that people don't understand the concept when you bring it up. Rather, like so many other bits of the English language, the term has simply fallen out of favor in our modern society. In the business world, ethics is the currently fashionable equivalent. However, it just doesn't seem to convey the same feeling.
When people speak of a person's honor, it's often a shorthand reference to their "code of honor", and this may offer a little insight into why it's not as trendy as it once was. The idea of a personal code of moral and ethical behavior, a matter of extreme importance to the individual, is something that we seem to have lost in our everyday lives. The reason in part lies in the last fifty or sixty years of American history.
At the time of the Second World War, there was a strong belief in American values and the nobility of our culture. Superman was the champion of "truth, justice and the American way". American ingenuity was a source of national pride, and the American dream the motivation for thousands of emigrants. In short, we believed in what America stood for.
The black and white TV sitcoms of the fifties painted a simplistic, benevolent and utopian view of our daily lives, so perhaps it's only natural that we felt betrayed when Vietnam, Watergate, the civil rights movement and a president who was "not a crook" were thrown in our faces. Suddenly, it became trendy to believe that everything we stood for was a lie. Cynicism became our watchword, and from that time forward, anyone who spoke in terms of truth, justice and the American way was considered a naïve individual desperately clinging to corny, outmoded ideals. Honor, the very cornerstone of American values, became a casualty of the times.
And yet, honor is not a new or uniquely American concept. It reaches across the globe and throughout the vast expanses of human history. As long as the weak are protected by the strong, fairness and honesty are required in all interactions, and higher values are more important than personal gain, honor will continue to be demonstrated by men and women of noble ideals everywhere. It is not naive, nor is it an outdated concept. In today's increasingly complex world, what could possibly be more relevant?
Do you have a personal code of honor by which you live? Is it so ingrained and well defined that you could write it down and share with others? It's a worthwhile exercise. When your values can be expressed in such detail, you may find that the concept of living with honor is not so corny after all. When you treat people well, you make friends. When you stand up for what is right, you gain respect. What greater reasons are there to live with honor?