So, just what is honor?
That’s right, honor. Honor is one of the more common words I hear being thrown around in this little country of ours but I often wonder if its people has any real understanding of what it means. I hear “palabra de onor” (word of honor) being said but I somehow doubt it applies to many.
Before we go on, let’s look at how honor is viewed in other cultures…
In Japan for instance, honor is taken very seriously. People there would rather take their own lives rather than lose what they believe is “honor”. They will commit suicide in a rather disturbing fashion (from disemboweling oneself in men and slitting one’s own throat in women) just to preserve their honor. When apologizing about big issues, Japanese openly prostrate before the person they are apologizing to, to show their sincerity so as to preserve their honor without having to commit suicide. The Yakuza, in particular, are quite infamous for mutilating themselves just to prove themselves to their gang leaders.
In Great Britain, there is always the idea of having a “stiff upper lip” that is often associated with their idea of honor. It means living up to your word and your tasks regardless of how much it troubles you. That’s why, in many of their stories as well as that of neighboring European countries like Germany or France you’ll notice that the heroes of their pieces go on great quests to make a name for themselves. They often face all manner of opposition and will have to pass through places unknown to become the heroes that they are remembered as. This kind of mentality goes hand-in-hand with how British go about their own tasks. They often understand the difficulties of the choices they make but go through with them anyway. Examples of how they chose a more noble path is when they finally decided to grant many of their colonies independence and occasionally accept bitter criticism from other countries.
The American idea of honor ties in with their idea of honesty. Of course, not all Americans are honest but it goes to show with Abraham Lincoln’s saying that: “You can fool some of the people all the time, you can fool all of the people some of the time but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” This means that while Americans can and have done their share of reprehensible things, they will own up when finally caught. Take for instance Richard Nixon voluntarily stepping down from office and being never heard from until his death in 1994.
With all three views we can understand one overarching message: sacrifice. Honor is about sacrifice. It is about choosing something that might be difficult over something that is easy because the difficult choice is right. This idea is often lost on many Filipinos because of their skewed look on abstract ideas like honor.
Let’s take a look, shall we?
Let’s start with the word mabuti or kabutihan which mean “good” and “goodness” respectively. How do Filipinos perceive the word “good” and how do they apply it in their day-to-day lives? Well, more often than not, I see many who confuse the word good with “easy” or “cheap” in the Philippines. If something is hard, then it is automatically branded as “bad”. Of course, there’s nothing new about this as a lot of cultures tend to associate death with the negative despite the fact that death is part of the cycle of life. But then again, it becomes preposterous when a good number of Filipinos prefer to take shortcuts rather than make a whole length of a journey. I commonly hear people saying: “Bakit mo pahihirapan ang sarili mo?” (Why make it hard on yourself?) despite the fact that their supposed “easy way” is both self-defeating and potentially dangerous.
Okay, now let’s go with katapangan or “courage”. So what is courage is exactly? Well, as any educated person will telly you, courage and recklessness are not the same thing. Courage is “not the lack of fear but the mastery of it”. It means facing something difficult or scary for the greater good. You are, in your heart, afraid of what may happen but you proceed nonetheless because you know that it is right. However, in the Philippines, “courage” is often confabulated with aggression which, unfortunately, isn’t always synonymous to real courage. You can always say that a tyrant or bully is aggressive but you cannot really call them brave when their victims are all too often people who can’t fight back.
Finally, let’s tackle katapatan or “loyalty”. Well, I’m sure we all agree that we have differing ideas on the topic, but the bottom of line of loyalty is sticking to something regardless whether or not it sucks. Loyalty is similar to the concept of courage in that you know that something might be hard or dangerous but you stick to it anyway. Unfortunately, “loyalty” in the Philippines is a very subjective term and the people it applies to is very limited. Most Filipinos tend to misinterpret loyalty to only include themselves and their immediate surroundings. It’s sad to note that even after declaring our independence, many Filipinos continue to carry a divided mindset and will always favor their own group regardless of their competence over any others.
The three concepts I mentioned are the key ingredients in defining the word “honor”. Here in the Philippines, the very concept of honor is rather hazy because of how said elements are often misinterpreted. How can one work towards the common good when one’s definition of good is always about being “difficulty-free”? How can one know what it means to be brave when being brave just means you’re willing to pummel the other guy into submission? Lastly, how can one be loyal to one’s nation when one is only “loyal” to those he/she personally knows?
With this in mind, it completely flies over my head while we put such ridiculous titles to our politicians when they are the exact opposite of what honor stands for. Titles such as “excellency”, “esteemed” or “honorable” are often found in the title of many of our leaders when they probably couldn’t even tell you what their titles mean.
While it may be a long time yet before we, as a country, get our act together, I think it’s high time to put an end to the silliness of applying the word “honor” or “honorable” to people not clearly deserving it.
Honor is about sacrifice, of putting aside one’s personal issues to tackle things that are more essential and beneficial to the whole. Only when we Filipinos understand what it truly means to be “honorable” can we truly make changes in making ourselves a better nation.
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