Tag Archives: honour

Listening is a bardic art

With bardcraft, there’s an obvious inclination to focus on output. Here I am, writing a blogpost… But, to have the output be good, we need to spend as much time as we can listening to and reading other people. Our own perspectives are inevitably limited, and the more time we spend finding out how things look from other perspectives, the better. 

Listening and reading protects us from using cliches and stereotypes. It is easier to get away from tired pop-culture habits if we know more about a greater array of people. By listening and reading we can hopefully spot our own prejudices and assumptions and learn to do better.

Social media is brilliant for this. You can follow people with first hand experience of pretty much anything, and learn from them without creating any kind of burden. Learning when not to comment, when to stay silent and read/listen is a powerful skill, too. Finding the limits of what we know, and the points at which we aren’t qualified to say anything is valuable self knowledge.

All too often, creators write fantasies about other people’s lived realities. This is enabled by hiding behind the idea that imagination is everything. All too often, the people who get the high profile creative jobs are white, male, cis, straight, affluent, able bodied and comfortable. Popular culture has far more representation of what this demographic thinks other people are like than it does authentic representation of people. Most of the world is not middle class cis straight white men.

I’m entirely in favour of imagination and making stuff up. However, the more we know, the better a job we can do of that. Imaginations are not harmed or limited by exposure to facts and other perspectives. Feeding your brain information will stimulate your imagination, not hurt it. To imagine from a place of insight and understanding is far better than to just recycle whatever dubious ideas you have unconsciously absorbed from whatever is around you. The person who does not undertake research in a deliberate way is more likely to unconsciously repeat cliches and prejudices.

There is honour in being well informed and creating good representation of everyone who isn’t you.

What is courage?

Most often, courage and bravery are both defined in terms of overcoming fear. Apparently it isn’t courage if you weren’t afraid in the first place. It may be heroic idiocy, or naivety, impulsiveness or not thinking it through. I feel like we’re missing something here. I feel like reducing courage to what we do in the face of fear is less than helpful and my totally unsubstantiated personal gnosis is that this is not what ideas of courage meant to our Celtic ancestors. Also, they will have had a totally different language for all of this.

What if fear isn’t the most important thing? What if you can look at the dangers, weight them sensibly, but also not be overwhelmed by them. What if the dangers don’t tend to seem like the most important factors? What if courage, as a quality and as a virtue could have something joyful about it? An enthusiastic, life embracing, challenge meeting sort of feeling that leads a person to live life boldly, bring the best of what they have and do things as well as is possible. What if courage is the virtue of being really invested in how you do something and not overly focused on what you think the outcome will be? On the grounds that living well, with honour and authenticity will always be the right direction to go in, even if it doesn’t seem expedient right now.

Courage, thought about this way becomes the opposite of apathy. The odds don’t matter so much, the risks don’t matter so much, the real question is how much passionate integrity and wholeheartedness you can bring. It becomes a state of being, not a reaction to scary stuff.

At the moment, this is a largely aspirational line of thought for me. I’ve done a lot of trying to be brave in face of things that terrify me. It’s exhausting, and I don’t much like how it feels. I want to shift my relationship with the rest of reality, and I want to re-imagine myself and these are some of the terms on which I’m doing that at the moment.

Questions of honour

If a chap in a chivalric or mythic tale announces that his honour has been damaged in some way, you know there’s going to be a duel or other violence. His honour may have been damaged because he didn’t get the right cut of meat at the feast, or someone suggested his wife is not the prettiest woman in the history of the world. The speed of his horse may have been questioned, or some more obscure personal pride thing that no sensible person could have seen coming. And then, so that honour can be satisfied, pain must be inflicted, maybe even death. It’s a way of thinking about honour that has never made much sense to me.

For women, honour is usually framed in such stories as being all about not having sex, or only having sex with the man you are married to. The woman who has sex forced upon her is deemed dishonoured in such tales – she does not get to fight a duel with the perpetrator. She may only be able to redeem herself through suicide. Men in her life are entitled to get angry and kill people – her included. Women who have affairs, or love people other than the person they were forced to marry do not get a good deal, often. Although Queen Medb of Connacht with her friendly thighs does better than most in this regard. Women in such stories do not get to regain their honour by killing the person who dishonoured them.

Ten years ago and more, honour was a popular term in Druidry, especially around the Druid Network. In that context, it didn’t mean taking offence and getting into fights – although that happened too! This is the idea of honour as a heroic virtue available to people regardless of gender, and as something you hold within yourself, not something people can take from you by saying you don’t have the best horse. Honour is a personal code, and as such, how one person’s honour works may make no sense to the next person.

For me, it means the place where I dig in. The point at which I will sacrifice something in my interests for the sake of a principle. It’s the lines I won’t cross, no matter how great the temptation. I have a lot of grey areas and points of flexibility because while I prefer not to lie (for example) I wouldn’t compromise some innocent person’s safety or wellbeing for the sake of speaking the truth. My sense of what’s honourable often depends a lot on the context. My relationship with the natural world is one where I think a lot about what’s honourable, but I can’t always act with perfect honour, often because I’m compromised by not being able to afford the best options. There are things about how I work and what I think is honourable there that contributes to not being able to afford to live with perfect honour in other regards.

It depends so much on what you think matters. Personal honour can be a very private thing, needing no recognition or anything else from anyone else. Or it can be all about holding up a perception of yourself in which honour needs defending from criticism, and it’s worth killing or dying over a joke or a badly spoken word or someone getting laid. If you know you’ve acted honourably, no one can take that from you. If your honour is all about your public image, it’s really vulnerable. There are so many stories in which rulers are offended because someone lets on they aren’t as good as they think they are – if the illusion of your honour is dearer than truth… it doesn’t seem much like honour at all to me.

The contradictions inherent in virtue

Every virtue has the seed of its own destruction inside it. Taken too far, or taken the wrong way and things that should have been virtuous and brought good into the world become dysfunctional or damaging. The problems come when we get too focused on practicing the specific virtue and stop putting it in the context of a bigger picture.

Tolerance that tolerates intolerance sows the seeds of its own destruction. When you accept that all views deserve to be heard and all comers are due a place at the table, you empower those who will take power from others. Tolerance needs to be conditional on excluding the truly intolerant. When we’re so invested in our tolerance that we’ll tolerate anything and anyone, we enable Nazis, fascists and other haters.

Modesty and humbleness, and avoiding pride can in itself become a form of pride. These are particularly Christian virtues, and the way they seed their own destruction can often be best seen in those who claim Christianity as their faith. When people become enthusiastic participants in their own martyrdom, and keen to announce how humble, modest and good they are, it’s pride in a different hat. But it’s more problematic than simple, honest pride, because it’s also self deluding.

Being kind can become profoundly unkind when it supports people in doing harmful things. If we’re too kind to tell someone that what they do isn’t working. If we’re too kind to call out an abuser, question dodgy thinking or protest at inappropriate behaviour, we enable all those things. The kindness that lets someone carry on destroying their own life isn’t very kind at all.

Often the wider frame we need for navigating here, is honour. But even honour holds the seeds of its own destruction. If we focus on how to appear honourable and how to put ourselves forward as the best and most honourable people, we won’t always do what’s needed. Sometimes what’s needed is a lot more complicated than personal honour will allow. When the laws become toxic and the leaders are false, it ceases to be honourable to hold up laws or dutifully follow leaders. When the truth around you is evil, lying can become necessary. When the system is unfair, cheating can become essential.

At every turn, you can use the seed of destruction within a virtue to act badly while claiming the moral high ground. At every turn, you can use the knowledge that every virtue has its limitations to justify not even trying, or to protest that virtue itself is meaningless. It is a difficult thing to meaningfully practice virtue in a dishonourable age.

Shifting the boundaries

I was never terribly good at boundaries, growing up. Being a parent taught me a great deal about boundary setting. It’s no good declining to give a child boundaries, because that can leave them feeling unsafe and unable to navigate. Boundaries that are too limiting and rigid create resentment and restrict a child’s growth. The boundaries have to shift as the young person develops and changes. Those boundary shifts have to be talked about, so that they can happen in the right way, and be understood.

It took me a long time to realise that all the same things apply to adults. We need to have some sense of where the permissible edges are. We need the right to hold boundaries, but also the freedom to change them at need. Where we draw our lines in one instance cannot be taken as the rule for where our lines are. If I say yes to something once, I have not said yes to it forever.

Developing trust between people can mean a process of changing where the boundaries are. The process of interacting with each other can change how we feel and think, what we need and expect, and what risks we’re willing to take.

In some ways I’ve become a lot more guarded with my boundaries in recent years. I am far less tolerant of people who try to cross my lines uninvited. That’s about emotional lines as much as it is about physical contact. In some ways I’ve become softer in my boundaries because there are people I trust to honour what I say, and to still honour what I say if I need to change things.

We like clear and simple rules because they seem easiest to work with. But for every rule – religious or secular – it’s easy to think of times when breaking the rule would be the better choice. Lying isn’t good, but if Anne Frank is in the attic and Hitler is at the door, of course you lie. I’m not in favour of killing people, but sometimes this is necessary to save lives. If a shooter walks into a school, there should be no question about trained police taking them out in any way they can. And of course because people are difficult, this kind of argument can then be used to try and justify arming anyone who wants to be armed. Give people clear and simple rules for all situations and a subset of those people will always try and bend the rules for their own gain.

When it comes to dealing with people, simple rules tend not to work very well. What we have are massively complex social structures full of privileges and power imbalances. Our dealings with large numbers of people are shaped by rules, habits, social norms. These are not easy things to think about, which is why I think it pays to focus on the most immediate and specific interactions where we have the most scope to make change.

How do we recognise and honour other people’s boundaries?

Do we have any habits of thought that might means we’re not listening? Do we assume our own rights or entitlements trump someone else’s? Do we think a certain kind of person just makes a fuss?

What do we do when our boundaries aren’t respected? Do we have choices?

How we deal with each other’s boundaries is a fundamental building block for our societies as a whole. What we normalise, or ignore. What we undertake to change. What we refuse to back down over. What we demand other people take seriously.

Pillars of the community

When people in positions of power abuse others, what tends to happen is they are helped to cover it up. We’ve seen it with the Catholic Church protecting paedophile priests, we’ve seen evidence lost in a current case about child abuse amongst the high and mighty. The likes of Jimmy Saville and Bill Cosby should be on everyone’s minds. Of course it’s not just at the really top ends of things, and it’s not just those in power protecting each other.

Yesterday I had a conversation about a man who has broken data protection law, broken the rules of the organisation he’s involved with, lied, manipulated and bullied people. “But he’s done so much good,” his defender said. “And I don’t think he realises what he’s doing is a problem.” A pillar of the community, this man who has done so many things that are not ok, is defended because of his work.

We see it in the creative community – how do we judge a creative person when their lives are riddled with issues? Consider H.P. Lovecraft’s ghastly racism, consider the acting out of modern celebrities. Is it justice to weight the work someone does again the harm they cause, and to consider the balance?

I think not. I think this because it allows powerful people to get away with raping, and then silencing their victims. It allows powerful people to bully, use and abuse those around them. How much of the work that we celebrate has been achieved by using others? A self-proclaimed pillar of the community can look like a splendid achiever, but if someone is in the habit of lying and taking, there’s no guarantees they are honest about who really did the work.

Sometimes it’s because we convince ourselves that we need them – the unchallengeable pillar runs an event, or an organisation, and so we feel obliged to turn a blind eye and pretend we didn’t see the signs of trouble. We tell the people who want to complain that we just don’t want to hear it – I’ve had that happen to me, and it’s an awful position to be put in.

Perhaps we believe that people at a certain level deserve to be cut some slack. A sense that those above us are entitled to use and mistreat, so long as we can pretend we don’t know it’s happening. Feudalism is alive and well.

Of course for every rotten apple who makes it to the top, there are a lot of good folk, working with honour and integrity, and doing the right things for the right reasons, and not abusing their power or position in any way. It’s not an inevitable consequence of power. Certainly, power can corrupt, but it doesn’t have to. Every time we accept corruption and moral bankruptcy from those in authority, we’re also delivering a quiet smack in the face to the people who are better than that, and who deserve our support. Most communities have multiple pillars, after all, and if the abusive ones are supported by the community, the harm done to the non-abusive ones is considerable.

When corrupt, unethical, immoral and abusive people find their way into places of influence, we should not go along with them. We should not excuse their epic failings on the basis of ‘good work’. If something is wrong, it needs taking seriously and we all need to keep a careful eye on who we support, and what they’re actually doing.

Emotional Honesty

Word based honesty has always been very important to me. If I can be properly honest, I will be, although I recognise that there are times when honesty isn’t honourable. Truth can kill people, in some contexts. If I need to protect someone, then my preference is omission and misdirection rather than outright untruth because these cause less trouble and are easier to unpick later on.

Of course, most lying happens for a reason, and not all of it is conscious. The reasons always seem good to the person doing the lying – self protection, harm and pain avoidance, avoiding punishment and reputation damage are likely to seem good ideas. We lie in small, and less small ways to ourselves and others about how good we are, how many people love us or depend on us, and this is all about needing to feel secure. Much of the time this kind of dishonesty isn’t a major problem, but the bigger the lie, the bigger the consequences if it catches up with you. The person who has greatly invested in a lie of self worth, telling themselves and those around them how fantastic and important they are, can be setting themselves up for the most almighty fall.

I know that I have trouble being honest around a number of issues. I’ve spent years refusing to look properly at issues of pain, depression, anxiety and exhaustion, telling myself that what matters is the soldiering on regardless. I got to the point in the last year of no longer having the means to do that – the lie caught up to me, my body cannot take it anymore. I have to start facing up to my own limitations, admitting they exist, and being honest with myself, and everyone else, about what I can and can’t do.

Alongside this I’ve come to recognise that while I’m very emotionally honest if using words, I do my level best to lie with my body language – again mostly about pain, exhaustion and fear. I’ll try and put a brave face on it. I lie a lot by omission around these issues, too. Again, this summer this has caught up with me, and I’ve reached places of can’t do this anymore. It’s requiring me to think a lot about how I present myself to others, the effort involved in masking, and the possible consequences of not doing that.

I lie to make life easier for other people. I lie in fear that if I am honest, people will think I am attention seeking or making a fuss. Sometimes I lie about things because it seems more professional to do so, and I have to wonder about how much of that goes on out there. When did being professional become more important than being real, or being human? I lie because it’s easier than having to explain.

How much of this should I change? How much do I want to change? How much of this is about changing what I do, and my choice of situations? I’m going to try and be more conscious about where I’m quietly lying about how I’m doing, and see whether those are really situations I need to be in, or whether, for the greater part, I can step away from the spaces where I don’t feel it’s safe or appropriate to be honest. I’m tired of pretending to be better than I am.

Belief, politics and seeds for action

I believe that human rights are the foundation of a civilized society. I will not co-operate with anything that undermines them. I believe that we only have one planet and that its preservation is essential. I will not co-operate with planet destruction or environmental degradation.

I will resist tyranny, oppression and environmental damage by whatever honourable means are available to me. I will speak out, use what economic power I have, and if needs be put my body in the way of threats to my society and my land.

I will do whatever I can to uplift, support and enable all others who are resisting. I will not blame anyone who is too frightened or under-informed to fight for life and liberty, but I will seek to educate and demonstrate through my own actions to the best of my ability.

I will use what resources I have to alleviate suffering where I can, to protect life, and to protect our precious eco-systems. I will work in all ways available to me to create a better, fairer, sustainable and kinder future.

I will challenge greed, oppression, short term thinking and eco-suicide by any honourable means available to me.

I recognise that I am one finite human being with limited resources of time, energy and money, and I will resist in ways I can sustain for the longer term and I will not resist by doing the things I am opposed to. I will act in line with my beliefs in all things. I will not allow fear, short termism or personal advantage to sway me from what is just, good and needed. I will seek the greater good in all things.

If you agree with any or all of this statement, you are welcome to reuse any part or the whole in any way you see fit.

Angry Druid

For me, the journey of recent years has involved claiming my own anger and letting myself feel entitled to it. Anger is not a socially accepted emotion – especially not in women and many of us learn that we are to be quiet, grateful, biddable and co-operative and that we must never, ever cause offence by being furious. Never mind what’s done to us to provoke the fury.

I’m also only too aware that there are a second set of people who feel entitled to anger over anything that displeases them or makes them uncomfortable. There are a small number of people for whom the experience of anger is understood as an excuse for violence, as though to be angry is to have no choice but to lash out.

Getting the balance of needful, healthy, protective anger without falling into the anger that is deaf to all negative feedback, is tricky. It’s not what we feel that’s in issue here, it’s what we choose to do with it. How and when we express anger, is a choice. This is very much a work in progress for me, and as ever, alternative stories and perspectives are exceedingly welcome.

I’ve identified two different anger inducing situations for me. The first is impersonal – a response to sexism, casual or deliberate, to things that enable rape culture, racism, pedalling misinformation, hypocrisy and the such. The vast majority of anything said by anyone from UKIP and quite a lot of other political stuff too, in fact. I wade in and I comment. I make a point of being as polite as I can with this, because feeling entitled to be rude is a lot of what enables the other side in these fights. I’m not doing it with any hope of winning, but some possibility that others, getting to compare me being polite and rational with the hateful raving, might decide they don’t want to support the haters. It’s worth a try. While the clashes I get into are often wearing, I know what I’m doing and why and I feel fairly confident about it.

The personal stuff is a lot harder. I don’t feel confident about my entitlement to personal anger. If someone seems rude, unkind or aggressive in their treatment of me, my default is still to step back, and the urge is still to apologise and assume blame and responsibility. That’s been a big problem for me historically and has left me vulnerable, so I’m trying not to do it. Where possible, what I do is step away to explore my responses without the source of emotion present. If I can get a second opinion, I will. A wider context can help establish what is fair, reasonable, normal, etc. That enables me to make more informed judgements about how I’m handling things. I will talk to people I trust to see if it looks likely that I’m in the wrong. If it is necessary to go back and say anything, it will be calm and considered.

I’ve never said anything in anger that I didn’t mean and later had to retract. I have a great deal of difficulty with people who use ‘I was angry’ to excuse this. If honour is central to Druidry, then your word is everything, and if you speak carelessly, or say things in rage that are not meant, where does that leave your honour? I find I’m more comfortable with people who own what they do in anger, who meant what they said and are not ashamed to own it in hindsight. That’s a good deal easier to respect, even if I do choose to step away from them, than the person who lashes out, and in a desire to seem nice, later puts the lie to their own words.

I am convinced that it is possible to feel, express and honour anger- our own and other people’s – without falling into a shouty, aggressive, dysfunctional and dishonourable state.


Of all the virtues a person might cultivate, courage is one of the ones I find most important. Honour is the primary virtue cherished by Druids, but honour without courage doesn’t amount to much. If you can only be honourable when it is safe and easy, you won’t get very far.

Fear is a very destructive and damaging force in my life, and I know I am not alone in this. There are days when the fear is so bad that I simply want to shut down and refuse to engage with the world. To do so, would be to bring about personal disaster, there are no two ways about it. To be halted by fear, is to fail. So much of what I do depends on getting out there and doing it… if I let the fear overwhelm me, I am finished. It means that often, any kind of movement at all is far better than quitting would be.

For some, courage and bravery seem like an absence of fear. From the outside they tend to look that way. Conventional wisdom has it that courage is not freedom from fear, but the ability to overcome the fear that you have. Undoubtedly this is a useful thing, but it means living with the fear.

What is courage, as a state of being? Firstly it requires a capacity for hope. You have to believe it is possible for things to be better and that taking action will help. Without that fundamental belief, there is no courage. An absence of despair, or at least not very much of it, are necessary pre-requisites for courage. Even if you are heading out to face certain death, you have to believe that doing so means something, or you’ll just pull the duvet over your head and wait for certain doom to come to you, instead. It doesn’t need to be more than a fine thread of hope, a tiny belief that some small thing could be made better. However, that dash of optimism makes all the difference. Without it, courage seems futile.

Courage requires a degree of belief in your own power. If you don’t believe that you, personally, can make a difference by acting or doing your best, you will not find the courage to stand up and try. So for there to be courage, there must be a world view that embraces the potential of the lone crusader, or that sees how many little actions contribute to changing the tide. Gloomy acceptance does not foster courage.

Then you need to have a vision of something better, so that you know which direction to move in. It might be vague, it might simply be the idea that if you act honourably you will move towards those better ways of being, but there needs to be something. Courage without honour has no idea what to be doing, and can easily turn into something else.

Courage is not merely the business of overcoming fear. Determination can do that. Fear itself can make us overcome the paralysis of fear for fear of what might be worse should we fail to act. Courage is an inner condition that says ‘I can try and there is a point’. When you have that, you can see all the things it is reasonable, and less reasonable to be afraid of, but you have the means to challenge them. You have a perspective that makes it possible to stand up and act. That kind of courage is not bombastic or sabre rattling, but it has a great deal of power.

I do not think that courage as a virtue is simply a measure of overcoming fear. It is a state of being that is not dependent on how much fear you are feeling. It is a habit of mind and a cultivation of belief that enables action regardless of fear. One can therefore have courage without feeling afraid, or with it; the measure is not the terror overcome, but a particular inner quality that enables action.