Tag Archives: honourable

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.


Sweet little lies

My son has a tremendous interest in ethical questions. He’s particularly fascinated by the ethics of lying, such that this has been a significant topic of conversation lately. Now, the simple answer here is that lying is unethical. But of course there’s the line ‘If Hitler is at the front door and Anne Frank in the attic’. There are times when the only honourable thing to do is to lie. There are many people who lived and escaped persecution only because someone hid them and lied for them. Everyone who helped a Jewish person flee the Nazis. Any movement that resists oppression and tyranny depends on subterfuge to some degree. The underground railroad. When the state itself becomes evil, following the law is not the most honourable choice.

Most of us will not find ourselves in a Hitler/Anne Frank scenario. I hope. But every day presents us with opportunities to be more or less honest. Lies by omission are common. The things we let slide, don’t mention. The little injustices we allow to pass unchallenged. The little mistakes we cover up. Most of the time, these don’t make a lot of odds in the grand scheme of things, but when they do, situations can suddenly run out of control and either you have to fess up, or their follows a process of having to tell more lies to hide the first one. Not a good place to be, not an honourable solution, and frequently, not something that allows for a fix. The person who can admit to a mistake has the space to learn, repair, improve. The person who denies ballsing things up cannot redeem themselves, and cannot learn. Appearing to be right, at the expense of actually being right, will cost you dearly in the long run, more often than not.

Then there are the lies we tell to spare someone’s feelings. The theory being that a lie to avoid pain is kinder. That is true sometimes, but at others, it sets people up for a fall. The person whose failings are not pointed out to them can have a seriously inflated self opinion, and sooner or later will run into a bit of reality, and find they aren’t the best novelist who ever lived, after all. I gather current TV shows frequently make ‘entertainment’ by laughing at people who think they’re far better than they really are. The kinder thing to do would have been to point it out sooner. Thinking you are something, and finding you are not, can be far more traumatic than dealing with the truth early on. And again, there’s scope to change. If someone points out where you are failing, you can learn, improve, become what you want to be. The person who wrongly believes they know it already is being denied all kinds of opportunities to really achieve.

There are the lies of convenience. Most people, when they ask how you are, want a short, reassuring answer. It can be tempting to give that. I spent years lying to everyone around me, by saying  ‘a bit tired’ ‘just a bit under the weather’ when I visibly wasn’t ok, rather than saying what was going on. I did it to spare the people around me, and I did it to protect the person who was depriving me of sleep, undermining my self-esteem and abusing my body. Crazy. But like a lot of women in my situation, I didn’t want to face up to the implications of what was happening to me. Easier to blame myself, than the father of my child. Had I spoken the truth, someone could have pointed out to me that things were not ok. I couldn’t bear the idea of anyone thinking ill of my ex back then. And I also wondered if people would just agree with him, that it was my fault for being too demanding, too emotional, too… whatever it was that week.

When I started being honest about what had happened, I found warmth and support. I found versions of me that weren’t deemed useless, ridiculous, over reacting and unreasonable. I was told that the things I felt, wanted, needed, were the least a human should have. I wish I had dared to trust sooner.

One of the things I learned from this, is that if you consider yourself to be an honourable person and do not feel safe in being honest, it is time to question the situation you are in. It may not be Hitler at the door, but something external is quite probably awry. If you have a mindset that leans towards taking on responsibility, then it can be easy to internalise blame, to carry things that are not yours, and so forth. When honesty feels dangerous, there is serious work to do, somewhere.

The decision to lie should never been taken lightly. If it’s to avoid inconvenience, or for some other short term gain, it’s worth weighing up what the bigger picture looks like and what the ultimate cost might be. Difficult truth can be handled with tact and care. Mistakes need to be owned. And if it’s not safe to be honest, start thinking about an exit strategy.

For myself, I’d rather tell the truth as far as is humanly possible, come what may. But I do not currently have an attic, much less any Jewish girls depending on me for their lives. In that scenario, you can bet I’d be lying my ass off.


Of service and community

Nothing brings a person’s true nature to the fore like hard times and conflict. In difficulty, we see who is motivated by integrity and who puts ego first. We see who the peacemakers are, who the honourable warriors are, and who is all piss and wind. We see the control freaks, the fearful, the vindictive and the bloody stupid. All that is best, and worst in people tends to show up in the hard times.

Communities are difficult things. When two or more druids are gathered together, there will be disagreements. There will be personality clashes. There will be visions of how the world works that cannot ever be reconciled. This does not mean we can only hope to be groves of one, it means we need to work, and we need to have good and honourable intentions. This comes back to what I was saying recently about facilitating, rather than leading. A facilitator is not running something to massage their ego. A facilitator does what needs doing. A leader, on the other hand, will blithely do things that are not in the interests of their community, for the sake of themselves.

Bards of the Lost Forest had a core of three whose world views were not compatible. We made a strength of it, because it meant that there could be no core dogma, nothing others had to fall into line with. We accepted the different perspectives, and all was well. This was easy because we were collectively there to run an event, not to be important.

I’ve had a lot of experience of organising things over the last decade, and spent a fair amount of time in the company of other people who organise things. If you want it to go well, you have to be doing it for the love of the thing, and not for the desire to look good or be important.

It is difficult when the druid community has an occasion for collective shame. The last thing I want to do is stand up in public and draw attention to these moments. But at the same time, we should cast our eyes in the direction of the Catholic Church and child abuse, to remind ourselves what happens when we pretend not to see. To the best of my knowledge, we aren’t on that scale, and I pray we never will be. But in the meantime, we should not accept any kind of leadership that exists to serve the ego of the individual and not the good of the community.

I’ve been in conflict situations before now. I’ve had to consider what I needed, and balance that against what was going on in a wider context. I had a thorough stabbing in the back from people in my folk club, many years ago. I know what it’s like to be put in an unworkable position. While I did what I had to do to make things viable for me, I also kept my folk club going. I did not let my community down, but I did have some people leave it – their choice, not mine. Often, there are no perfect solutions to these things, but a bit of thought and care for the consequences and some attention to timing and detail goes a long way. I’ve found myself in conflict situations on the druid side too, times when public venting of anger and resentment might have made me feel a lot better, but could have caused untold harm to others. I’m proud to say that I didn’t do what I might have done.

People can, and will vote with their feet when they find themselves encountering ego and bullshit. To those of you who undertake to run things I would say, you are there to serve. If you aren’t there to serve, do not expect support.

To those many of you, facilitators and participants, who are doing what honour demands – in whatever form that takes – who are acting out of care and integrity, I salute you. Hang on in there. You represent the very best of what druidry is, and there are a lot of you.  More than enough to carry the day, to find the good, to make something worth having.

 

I’m not commenting specifically on Druid Camp, of course, having no direct involvement. I wish peace and the best of luck to those people trying to make a go of it, and have every sympathy for those who have felt obliged to step back.


Downtrodden: The new look for this season

He knows we are the scum of the earth. Every last one of us is committing benefit fraud, taking drugs and leeching off hard working tax payers like himself. Therefore, he is morally justified in doing whatever it takes to get rid of us. He knows that anything we say will be a lie. If we break down and weep, it is just an attempt to manipulate him. If we wind up homeless, that’s no more than we deserve. We should get proper jobs.

There are so many situations I could be describing here. The underlying theme is how we perceive people who appear to be living in poverty. It’s very easy to assume that people are only poor because they aren’t trying hard enough. Too lazy to work, selfish, sponging off the state. These are the people who wouldn’t work at school and have no qualifications, and are a waste of space. It doesn’t take much to get from here to the idea that maybe we should just line them all up and shoot them.

Oppression begins with dehumanisation. Once the intended victim is established, in the perpetrators mind, as being subhuman, it is much easier to proceed. Propaganda in war has often existed to explicitly demonise the enemy. Political rivals may do the same in poster campaigns. Nothing brings people together like having an opponent to fight. We’re standing up for the hard working people here, the good people, the people like you, and over there are the bad guys…. Go get em! It’s cynical, and manipulative, it keeps us fighting amongst ourselves and encourages us not to challenge the people who set the agenda.

Poor people are the easiest target. The odds are, they can’t afford to fight back. Threaten to make them homeless, to take away the money that buys food, or to undermine their human rights, and they can’t even afford to get the law involved. The harder it is to get legal funding for the poorest people, the more vulnerable they become.

I do not doubt that there are some people who are just not inclined to work, and who cheat the system. However, there are a lot of physically and mentally disabled people living in poverty. Victims of crime, people forced to run and leave everything they owned, single mums abandoned by feckless men, people shattered by bereavement, people who have been too sick to work and couldn’t pay the mortgage. There are so many people who come out of the armed forces and get into difficulty in civilian life. There are kids who grew up addicted to drugs, tobacco, alcohol, maybe from the womb – how much choice have they had, exactly? Poverty exists in cycles. It is still the case that your best guarantee of material success in life, is to start out with rich parents.

And what of the others? The people who work part time and care for someone else, unpaid and unsupported. The people who have such a strong calling that they work voluntarily and live in poverty because there is an injustice, a wrong in the world that they cannot ignore. How about the key workers who are not paid enough to be able to afford proper housing in our cities? Almost everyone making the leap to self employment, or seeking further qualification, will have to spend some time with very little income. It’s a gamble that may not pay off. And finally, there are people who chose to live in relative poverty because they reject the modern world and its priorities. But from the outside, to the prejudiced eye, we all look the same.

A bank balance is not the measure of someone’s humanity. There are many reasons why a person can find themselves in abject poverty, against their will. There are also a number of highly honourable choices that would require a person to accept living in poverty. While the wealthy elite have everyone else convinced that if poor isn’t criminal, it’s probably evidence of being criminal, we continue to equate material possessions with human worth.

I wonder what would happen if more people deliberately chose to live in relative poverty? The move towards greener living often means downsizing, owning less, re-using rather than replacing. You might stop buying all the new fashions and following every wasteful trend. Once people give up ostentatious consumption, the appearance of poverty isn’t far behind. Currently, our economy depends on reckless and unnecessary use of resources. If conspicuous rejection of affluence became the height of fashion, everything would change. It really is that ridiculous.


Nature truth and honour

I wanted, in the last blog to say ‘nature is truth’ but the more I think about it, the more certain I feel that it isn’t. Nature is full of things pretending to be other things. Often survival, as predator or potential prey, is all about misleading the other half of the equation. Scents are masked, forms camouflaged, insipid things wear the colours of poisonous ones, plants mimic insects to get pollinated and on it goes.

When you are fighting for your survival, you do whatever it takes.

I think there’s a case for saying that honourable behaviour is one of the many things you only get an option on when you aren’t living right on the edge. Individual humans of course still are, but humans as a species have had leisure time to think, and the scope to afford not to focus on immediate personal gain, for thousands of years.

The book religions have given us a lot of literature around the issues of free will and predestination. If God is good, why does he allow us to sin? Being the big question. But if you assume that selfish and deceptive behaviour is part of normal, natural behaviour, and that honour is a human construct, the whole context changes. Rather than taking good behaviour for granted and punishing wrongdoing, it’s a line of thought that says we should make more fuss over honourable behaviour, and look at ‘wrongdoing’ more in its context. People who feel they are in survival mode have different priorities. Either they need to feel they are not living on the edge, or they need support to relearn their relationships. If we imagine that honour is taught and not innate, a lot of other ideas need re-thinking alongside it.

We aren’t the only creatures capable of enlightened self interest, compassion, altruism and the such. So this is not an issue of overcoming some base animal state to attain a higher standard of being. We can learn ‘wrong’ ways of behaving just as easily as good ones.

I’m reading Graeme Talboys at the moment, and thinking a lot about his comments on Celtic tribes and societies. I have recollections of finding a word in Welsh (possibly mediaeval Welsh, don’t quote me) something like braint – denoting collective honour. Community honour. You can’t have community honour unless all of the individuals within a community are acting honourably. But how much personal honour can you have if those around you are allowed to act dishonourably? To move away from what is expedient towards speaking the truth and acting in ways consistent with truth, we’ve got to do that collectively. Our current societies don’t actually do all that much to support honourable behaviour, only to punish transgressions.

How often is it visible that someone has done a hard thing well? How much scope do we have to see where others are acting with integrity? It’s not like most of us get out there and proclaim it when we’ve done something hard, and not cheated even slightly. Our culture would consider that boastful. The Celts, I gather, saw boasting as a good thing. It allows you to talk up and celebrate the good, allows others to reinforce the good, moves away from punishment towards recognition, praise and taking pride in each other.

It probably says a lot that the idea of praising truthfulness and stopping to celebrate decent behaviour seems a bit odd. How often do you hear that kind of content on the news? How often is anyone praised for doing the things they were supposed to do?

As a household (boathold?) we have over the last year got into habits of praising each other. When you’re not used to care and support, they are a lot more visible as worthy of value and comment. As we’ve become used to the level of care we bestow on each other, we’ve not stopped with the verbal appreciation, and I don’t mean to. Good speech was, as I understand it, a Celtic virtue, and I think that means speaking to the good, speaking up about what is good, as well as speaking truthfully.