Every now and then I run across someone who justifies their behaviour in terms of the action of another person. She did this thing that irritated me and therefore she deserved to be shouted at. He annoyed me and I had to… It’s a curious process, that puts power over your actions into the hands of another person, arguably. If someone irritating you means that you have to shout at them, you have no self control and can only react to what you experience. I’m suspicious that in a lot of cases, this isn’t it at all and that it’s just an excuse for acting out.
I think there are also some very interesting issues to ask around questions of honour and deserving. What happens if we treat people in the manner they deserve? Well, firstly we have to define ‘deserve’. Does that mean ‘do unto others as others do unto you’? If it does then we respond to violence with violence and anger with anger. We can only be nice to people who are nice to us first, but if they’re working to the same rules, and have already seen our angry and violent responses giving other people what they ‘deserve’ then are they going to be nice? Or are they going to get in the first blow, just to be on the safe side?
Honourable behaviour has very little to do with what the other person has, or has not done.
Now, I’m entirely in favour of self defence, and restorative justice. If someone punches me in the face, what do I restore by punching them back? Nothing. If I allow my anger to rule me, shouting when I am irritated, punching when I am offended, what I am doing is being ruled by my anger. Pain, fear and grief reactions can be immediate, as can the feeling of anger, but what we experience emotionally and how we express it always involves a degree of choice, and the more time is involved, the more choice we tend to have.
I think the first requirement for honourable behaviour, is that it is considered behaviour, not just a knee-jerk reaction. If you are behaving without thinking, you aren’t considering the rights and wrongs of a situation, your own emotional state, the reasons for what is happening or anything else that may have a bearing. Allowing the first rush of emotional response to direct behaviour pretty much precludes doing anything more complex. Perhaps there are people who are so innately right, wise and good that their spur of the moment reaction is bound to be superb, but we lesser mortals cannot afford to be quite so self assured. A moment or two to think and question is surely the better way to go.
Honourable behaviour is, more than anything, what we do for ourselves. It is an expression of self and integrity. It is therefore, behaviour that we own. If I act, I’m going to do so for a reason, not as some kind of reflex action, if I can possibly help it. Any action or word that has to be justified in terms of what the other person did, is an action that needs a good, hard look. Honourable behaviour of course depends on the situation. What is called for in face of a mugger is not what is required when dealing with an angry child, and so forth.
Ask not what the other person deserves. Ask what you deserve, and how you wish to treat yourself, because every off the cuff, out of control, ill considered word or deed, is ultimately a manifestation of our failure to respect and value ourselves. The person who cannot control themselves enough to choose their own behaviour, arguably doesn’t have a very high opinion of themselves at all.