What It Really Means To Act With Honor, Because It’s Not All Chivlary And Bending Over Backwards


My mother always says to me, “Treat people honorably; the rest will come.” It sounds like a strange bit of advice, but it has been one of the most important things she has ever taught me.

Sometimes in life, you are tempted to over-promise or to under-commit. So many options! So little time! How can we even be sure we are doing the right thing? It’s so easy not to give a straight answer, to stretch things out. What’re a few hours going to do? Who would it hurt if we omit a few things? Shouldn’t we be shooting for the stars – even if we just land on the Moon, it’s still the Moon!

The Moon is still the Moon, but not to the person you promised Andromeda or Orion. In other words – embellishing and evasiveness are not your friend when other people rely on you.

Acting honorably isn’t by itself difficult – you tell people what you need, what you can and cannot do so that they know what to do; doing your best to deliver on your promises; and if your circumstances change, you tell them immediately so that they can make an informed decision.

That’s it.

If it sounds unsexy and utilitarian, I’m sorry. Hollywood has given us some empowering stories and some delightful romances, but in real life, your boss will not read your mind and promote you as a surprise; the guy who treats you like shite is not secretly in love with you, and your friend does not owe you forgiveness after you disrespected them. It doesn’t work that way.

Acting honorably means treating people with the same integrity and respect as you would treat yourself. That means giving them a chance to make their own decisions, listening to them, taking suggestions on board. It means standing up for what you believe in without tearing others down or letting them walk all over you. It means putting truth before your own comfort, and kindness before self-satisfaction. It means admitting that you are not infallible and accepting responsibility, and it means expecting honesty and integrity in return. It’s setting boundaries and showing compassion.

Does this sound confusing? Contradictory? It really should not – those are not mutually exclusive terms. You are exactly as valuable as anybody else in the world. If somebody treats you as less-than, the answer is not to stoop to their level, but to stop them from bringing other people down. Being honorable sometimes means helping others, but it also means detaching with compassion if the other person does not want to be helped. 

And yes, that’s a scary thing, because it requires us to put our trust in other people. Trusting their judgment, and trusting us to handle things if they don’t go according to plan.

But what’s the alternative? Holding onto our reality with a white-knuckle grip, while attacking anybody who might disagree?

Is this a way to live?