Tag Archives: dignity

Honourable Relationship

My first encounter with the term ‘honourable relationship’ came with wwww.druidnetwork.org and my time with The Druid Network. At first glance, it’s an obvious and simple concept. If you are living honourably, then your relationships must be honourable too. When everything is going smoothly and everyone’s happy, then maintaining honourable relationship isn’t difficult if you are a half way decent human being. When there is conflict, staying honourable is hard. I’ve watched board debates spiral out of control in online spaces as folk I know are well meaning and decent people can’t work out how to do honourable disagreement. It happens in real life as well.

Honourable relationship can only occur when those involved are all consciously acting with honour and seeking honour in and through said relationship. You can treat anyone honourably, but if they aren’t responding in kind, it’s not honourable relationship. However, even the most well meaning, honourable persons can find themselves in disagreement. What happens then, is the true test of both the relationship and the honour in it.

To hold honourable relationship is to still hold respect even in disagreement. If at this point you realise the other person is an asshole, your scope for honourable relationship has gone. It means not feeling that you have the right or the need to force your perception on someone else. Recognising that the other is an intelligent, informed, honourable person means recognising that the differences are ok. Or taking back the assessment that they are intelligent, honourable and know what they are talking about. Again, if we do that it’s not honourable relationship any more. They have the right to perceive differently, to want and act differently, to express their honour in different ways. A fine example would be an argument between someone who is passionate about eating locally sourced organic food, and is omnivorous, and someone who is passionately vegan and depending to a degree on imports.

To be in honourable relationship, we have to accept the other as they are, and respect their choices and actions. We can challenge and question, but we can’t deny them the right to think and feel as they do. And equally if we encounter questions and challenges, we have to recognise the other has every right to do that, and respond with integrity, not irritation. A key part of maintaining honourable relationship is the assumption that what we have is indeed honourable relationship – constantly looking for honour fails will break it in no time, so will a ‘more honourable than thou’ mindset. If we do it, we do it together, harmoniously and as a team effort.

Aside from the assumption of honour, we shouldn’t assume anything else. We should ask, and listen to the answers. Honour does not preclude competition – think about those heroic myths! It doesn’t rule out disagreement or conflict. And oddly enough when you think about it, honourable relationship does not require friendship. Two people might totally oppose each other in terms of ideology whilst holding such profound respect for each other’s dedication and methods that they do in fact hold honourable relationship.

If a relationship isn’t shaping up as honourable, then foot stamping and pointing out the other person isn’t doing it right seldom works. If a person cares about honour, nothing will offend them more than suggesting they aren’t acting honourably. Which can make those challenges and all important questions bloody awkward! While dignity is very much necessary to help you maintain your own honour, pride is a distinct handicap sometimes, and telling the two apart matters. Dignity will drive you to discover the right answers and to fix anything that has gone awry while pride makes it hard to own mistakes and tempting to stand your ground and claim you are ‘right’ when you aren’t.

In honourable relationship, we act in ways that allow ourselves, and others to maintain personal dignity. When pride becomes the dominating factor in a relationship, we may well lose the honesty and respect that honour depends on.

No Princess

Most little girls want to be princesses. I didn’t. I can remember being a small girl, and rather horrified by the idea of aspiring to be a spoiled brat who gets married off to some prince where that’s supposed to be your life. I wanted to be Peter Pan, or Maid Marion. I wanted to have adventures, and aside from sitting round waiting to get rescued, princesses were the object of the quest, not the person on it. What troubled me most was the knowledge that princesses have servants to do everything for them. Even as a child, it seemed to me that wasn’t luxury, but a loss of freedom.

The kind of power and influence money brings has an unreality to it. The more we seek to ‘free ourselves from drudgery’ the more removed we become from the simple reality of existing, and there is much to miss out on. Yes, we can own things by buying them, but that is a hollow possession and nothing compared to the kind of ownership that comes from doing. There is a reality to taking care of things, to cleaning, mending, hanging washing on the line. If Harper Collins decide to offer me an obscene advance for my work, I’m still going to be doing my own cleaning and taking care, because it grounds me, and I know it is good for the soul.

If we put work of inherent value first, and work of a monetary value second, everything changes. There are a lot of people whose jobs really don’t add anything to the world, folk who make money by moving it around on paper (costing others a fortune every now and then). There are industries devoted to selling is yet more useless, pointless tat. While money is treated as the most important thing, such jobs seem to have a justification, they give buying power, status and so forth. You too can be a princess and have some other Cinderella to sweep your floors.

When we prize skill, and value the things we can do for ourselves – not for what it costs or saves, but for the independence and ownership it brings – how different the world becomes. Someone decided that the best sort of work doesn’t get your hands dirty and allows you to pay other people to deal with our basic needs. We want to get away from the cleaning of home and clothing, from the preparation of food and the cleaning that generates, from all the things that are ‘dirty’. Who dictated that as being the right way to live, and why do we persist in swallowing it without a second thought?

Dirt is real. Dirt is life. Dirty work is quite often a lot more useful and sustainable than the meaningless jobs we are convinced are worth millions. We should be focused on the work, and innovation that adds beauty, viability, and quality to life.

Taking care of a thing creates relationship. Paying someone else to do it, does not. I know my kitchen floor well, I scrubbed it this morning. It knows me. In that process, I found the material for this blog, and the memory of my childhood self, appalled by princesses. This house fits comfortably around me and feels like a refuge, because I give it my time, energy and love. Money is no substitute for that. The same is true of human relationships – you can buy your way through them and use cash as a substitute for care, plenty of people do. That costs far more than it gives. Sure, you can pay someone else to raise your children, but in what sense will they be your children? Pay someone else to do your garden, your cleaning, and you lose some of your own relationship with the place. Spirit is not much affected by the spending of money. Tangible actions born of love are what count.

I’m not a princess, I’m a peasant. Always was and always will be. I’m proud of that, and I like the life it gives me.

Dignity through work

I started at 6.30 this morning, and have done three hours of house cleaning and tidying before sitting down to the computer. Yesterday I worked on various things, domestic and economic for 14 hours before curling up to read to my son. When I’m not using my brain for jobs (and let’s face it, cleaning is not brain intensive) I tend to contemplate things. Sometimes it’s the fiction work, but I do all kinds of other plotting and planning, and considering the world.

I can’t remember which of the UK politicians was making noises about dignity through work. It doesn’t entirely matter. The theory is that work equates to dignity. Up to the elbows in soap and dirty water, doing unpaid work I know will probably not even be noticed by the other folk in this house, much less rewarded with thanks or reciprocation… I thought about work and dignity.

In practice, for most people it’s not work that creates dignity and a feeling of worth, it’s having money and the attendant economic power. Staying home to raise a child is not seen as inherently worthwhile. Cleaning, feeding and caring for your tribe gets short shrift – not just from the powers that be, who want our tax money, (unpaid = not tax paying) but from wider society too.

I have an unnervingly low income at present. From an economic perspective, I should (and sometimes do) feel uncertain about my own value because of this. But I can conjure a nutritious and tasty meal out of raw ingredients and feed my son for very little. That’s something to take pride in too. It is also work.

It’s not paid work, necessarily, that defines dignity. People get all kinds of things from what they do – money is one, but status, a feeling of being useful and valued and contributing something useful is also tremendously important. Many jobs might issue cash, but they do not give much inherent satisfaction. I know too many people for whom work is, or has been demoralising, depressing and destructive. Focusing too much on the money takes us away from a far more important notion – work should be for something beyond the moving of money. It should improve something, and we should be striving after work we can feel good about, not sullied by.

The respect accorded in response to the things we do is also a source of dignity. Again, that doesn’t have to be about how much money is moved around. Dignity comes through the recognition of our efforts and value, through supportive human interaction, being thanked and appreciated. No amount of payment can substitute for that kind of response.

Good work is inherently dignified. It gets something done, it improves the world, it gives back to you as much, if not more than you put in. So no, three hours of housework and the resultant aches do not feel entirely undignified to me. I have done something useful. I do such work on a daily basis, as my grandmothers did before me back into history, and no doubt the majority of them were unpaid, and unremarked upon. There is honour in doing what needs to be done.

It’s often the lowest paid people who do the most essential things that keep our civilization moving. Industry depends on it. Without the workers on the shop floor, nothing gets made. Without the retail assistants and warehouse folk, nothing gets sold. I could go on. Power, and money are often too far removed from work and important action. We can’t overthrow the system this morning, but we can change how we think about our own work, paid and unpaid, and how we relate to those who are contributing, financially and otherwise. We can respect what is done, not the amount of money that changes hands because of it. There lies a personal revolution for anyone who can embrace it.