The honour of being

The honour of being

The honour of being

It is an honour to be a human being. In eighty-five years nobody has ever told me that – no parent, no teacher, no lover, no boss, no friend, no priest. I’ve been told ‘lucky’, ‘lottery’, ‘accident’, ‘mystery’.

I’ve been advised to choose my parents carefully (a joke, I think) and to seek good mentors (though I was never told how). But nobody told me that it is an honour to be a human being. It took me a long time to work it out.

The consequences of doing so are far reaching, exciting and not a little frightening. You realise that receiving such an honour makes you honourable, without qualification. Exactly who has honoured you may lead to a lifetime’s search. Or you may just accept the honour, show what gratitude you can and enjoy what all those people who were not born missed. (I’m not sure if not-born people are people but whoever they are, they certainly didn’t get the honour I got by being born.) However you receive this honour, the fact that it has made you honourable will itself suggest that you treat others with honour. They, too, are honourable.

And there’s the thing. What exactly is honourable treatment of others? The answer, of course, is in the mirror. Don’t look to see whether your hair is straight or your lipstick nicely balanced. Don’t examine for wrinkles; when they come they are badges of honour, too. Ask – out loud if it won’t get you sectioned – ‘what honour do I expect from others?’ I don’t need to spell out the rest of this paragraph; you know it already. It tells you what honourable means.

We build on the ‘honour of being’ by the life we lead. For all that we are honourable when born we are also ignorant. The first 20% of our life is spent trying to catch up with the herd we have joined. They have their own ideas, some good, some awful. They will try to ram these down your throat by making you believe that they know everything. It takes the first 10%, or even 15%, of your life to discover that they do not. If you get it right you will avoid spending the other 85% of your life making the same mistake that they did. You won’t get it all right either. Honourable means worthy of honour, not infallible.

So the paradox is that you are born honourable because the act of birth has honoured you but you still have to earn your honour. That comes not from widely applauded achievements or reaching positions of apparent power or wealth. It comes the same way a house is built, brick by brick, decision by decision, action by action. One faulty brick won’t bring the house down but too many faulty bricks will. Like a bricklayer, each brick must be handled lovingly, trimmed to size with skill and cemented into place with a firm but caring touch.

Think of it like this. A beautiful picture can be enhanced or detracted from by the frame that holds it. Your picture is the honour of being born. The frame is what you put round it day by day. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive, it has to be fitting.

And it is fitting when it is honourable.

“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act”
George Orwell