Tag Archives: honour

Between security and uncertainty

A great deal of human activity is, and has been, devoted to making the world a safer, more predictable place. These days we use science and technology, before that, our ancestors prayed and made stories that explain things. Insulated by central heating, cars, double glazing and all the other mod cons, we can convince ourselves that we have security. Our jobs are safe, the money from them will enable us to keep everything else under control. We can buy our way out of problems. Of course, for a lot of people in the world, this illusion of security does not exist, they live too close to the edges.

The better a job we do of building the illusion of safety, the more traumatic it is to have that torn down. How many of the things we take for granted are actually safe and certain? Here in the UK we’re watching the government launch a massive attack on many institutions and systems a lot of us had taken for granted. No security there then. Where a feeling of safety is derived from buying power, that depends a lot on earning power. As unemployment rises, increasing numbers of people are having that source of safety stripped from them. We saw with the banking crisis that having savings stashed is not necessarily going to work either – if the banks fail, they can take your security with them. And if you’ve inherited enormous wealth, there’s always the fear that some seriously socialist government will come in and take that from you.

We don’t, as individuals, have all that much say over a lot of things that influence our lives. No matter how hard we work, how good or clever we are, a change of government policy can throw us into poverty and disaster, a natural event can kill us or make us homeless. Illness can strip everything from us. Crime, abuse, deliberate attack and tragic misfortune are all things that can destroy us, with no warning.

Security is an illusion.

Does that mean plunging into gloom and hopelessness? Is apathetic despair the only reasonable response? I’ll admit I have days when it feels that way, but it doesn’t help, or improve things so it’s not a pragmatic answer.

The only security we can trust, is not to be found in money or material things. Anything external to us is, by its very nature, beyond our full control. But anything within us, we have far more reason to depend on. The odds are, if we can’t find it within ourselves, we won’t find it anywhere else either.

We can trust to our wits, if we know we have them. Imagination and creativity will help us find solutions to problems, or ways round them, or better yet, the means to turn setbacks into advantages and possibilities. We can trust our own courage, that whatever the challenge, we have it within us to step up to it. We might equally find a sense of security in knowing that we can endure. Once we’ve been tested a few times by life, we start to get a sense of how tough we are, and what we can weather. So even if things are hard now, by bearing them, we can get through to a time when all will be better, perhaps. When there is no ‘win’ in a situation, we can take comfort from doing the best we can and acting with honour. If there is nothing else, then honour and dignity are still things to hold to, and for longer term survival can prove a lot less damaging than ‘doing whatever it takes’ and having to live with the consequences of that. It’s easy in crisis to feel that dishonourable action is justified, by need, desperation, extremity, but there usually are options. Rare is the situation you can’t tackle with honour, and maintaining that sense of self is something to hang onto when all else is chaos.

Systems might fall, disasters may beset us, but true friendship endures and may grow stronger. There are people who will disappear out of your life at the first signs of struggle, but they were clearly not worth having as friends. True friends stay. The deep friendships we invest heart and soul in, are one of the best kinds of security we can look for. They won’t necessarily give us physical certainty, but they provide an emotional centre and continuity.

Anything that can be stripped from us, is not, and was not part of ourselves. We might have valued it, needed it, life without it may be hellish. If we aren’t dead, then life without the lost thing is clearly possible. Somehow.

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.

Relationship with self

How we relate to ourselves is at the centre of our life experience. It informs what we do, how we do it, what we accept and tolerate. The ideas we hold about ourselves are not created in a vacuum, they are shaped by those around us. To a certain extent, who we think we are depends on who everyone else thinks we are. How we act informs this, and it creates a circle of action and reaction. If we aren’t doing this consciously, if we behave in the ways we are expected to, we can end up very much products of our environments and backgrounds with little actual control over ourselves.

We all of us carry stories about who we are. Some of that may derive from what we do. Much of it can be purely fantasy and daydream, carried within us. Equally, we may be under thrall to the perceptions of others. How do we tell? Is any of this any more real or important than any other aspect?

Who do we want to be and how would we like people to relate to us? Put aside all that is, and contemplate for a moment how you would like it to be. Where are the differences? Could you cover that distance with your own actions? Or is it all about the perceptions of others? Are you hankering after fame and fortune, or would you just like to be heard and taken seriously for a change?

Where we have good relationship, it is easier to flourish. In a good relationship, we are supported and cared for, encouraged to do our best and to aspire to greater things, to take joy in what we achieve and feel good about ourselves. Toxic relationships, poisoned by jealousy and resentment may instead encourage us to be small and insignificant so that others do not feel challenged by us. We may run up against people who resent us because we do not conform to their beliefs, and who will try and reduce us so they do not have to take a knock to their own cherished paradigm. We may meet with people who want to control us – they may well have little control over their own lives, and find security in being able to restrict others.

It is very hard indeed to have a good relationship with self if you are not allowed the space in which you can be yourself. Human relationships can be absolutely crippling in this regard, but if we are always used to being treated in certain ways, even seeing there is a problem is tricky. Consider the child who has grown up being told they are ugly and stupid. The absence of self esteem, and the profound self consciousness engendered may make them socially awkward, clumsy, reluctant to try, thus reinforcing all those beliefs about worthlessness.

Sometimes, to find out who you are, it is really important to get away from people. The sky will not judge you. The earth will not comment on your weight, or your earning capacity. With quiet and space, it’s possible to find different ways of being. I’m coming out of a great deal of darkness and difficulty, years of feeling like a total failure as a human being, a belief that I carried an inherent wrongness that marred everything I did and made it reasonable for people to treat me as less important than everyone else. Living with that from day to day, I couldn’t see it, much less challenge it.

When you change – as we all do, some people will fear and resent it, others will continue to love and support you. It’s easy to end up internalising the fear, jealousy and resentment of others, to become ‘wrong’ so that they can remain comfortably where they are. If you are acting carefully, honourably, then the right and freedom to be who you are should be a given. If it isn’t, if you are being restricted and not permitted to live and flourish on your own terms, you may be dealing with the toxicity of another. Step back. Take yourself, your soul, out into the wilds. See who you are when you stand only in relationship to the sky and the soil. Seek things you can undertake alone, and see what that reveals to you about your own nature. Relationship with self need not be defined by the attitudes of others, and no matter who we’ve been told we are, we can change, grow, become ourselves and be able to view ourselves as people worthy of love and respect.

Druidry and relationship

In an earlier post on relationship I mentioned that relationship is a central concept in Druidry. I was asked in what sense I meant that as being specifically a feature of Druidry, and not religion as a whole. So today’s post is a proper attempt at answering that. (And, if you spot things I’ve skated over and need talking about properly, poke me, I am always appreciative of the pointers and inspiration.)

I think it is fair to say that relationship is a feature of every religion – relationship with the divine, and the world, which are usually viewed as two separate things. The book religions tend to specify very clearly how those relationships should be manifested. There are ways of praying, times to pray, songs to sing. There are people specifically responsible for mediating between divinity and the rest of us. There are prescribed forms of relationship that are ‘good’ – monogamous, permanent heterosexual marriage usually, and there are forms of relationship that are not allowed – gay relationships, plural relationships, sex outside marriage, etc. Where many religions are concerned, part of the shape of the religion is the way it defines our relationships for us and tells us how we ought to go about them.

When it comes to Pagan religions, some do more to define our relationships than others. Druidry very specifically does not pin down how we should relate to our gods or how we should express that. Druid ritual tends to be vague about naming deities a lot of the time, respecting that you might not all follow the same gods. The web of connection, the sense that all things inter-relate and are affected by each other, is very much part of a Druidic understanding of the cosmos. We don’t see ourselves as separate from nature, nor do we see gods as entirely separate from nature. We tend towards an environmental consciousness that recognises interdependence and unity. We have no rules about who you can love or how you should love them, beyond the requirement for honour. Druidry requires us to form our own relationships.

By encouraging our awareness of relationship, Druidry takes us towards conscious, engaged, thoughtful connections. But it doesn’t tell us how to do it. That would create dogma and would take away responsibility. It is crucial that we, as Druids, fully own our own relationships, are conscious of them, enter them mindfully and act based upon our own sense of honour and our own insight. This enables us to create relationships that are unique, intense, deeply felt and part of our spiritual experience. There is no room for complacency or taking for granted. I can talk about what makes good relationship, what it feels like and what it does, but I can’t tell you how to go out there, find someone or something to do this with and make it work.

For Your Own Good

If anyone hurts you, in body or in mind and then tells you they’ve done it for your own good, or that it is necessary in some way, run. Right then. Don’t stop, don’t think about it, don’t look back. There may be occasions to make exception for members of the medical profession, dentists, people who are pulling lumps of shrapnel from your legs etc, but even then if it feels wrong, take that discomfort seriously and make sure they know.

I mentioned in yesterday’s post on You Shouldn’t Feel That Way, how ‘I didn’t mean it’ is often given as a reason for putting that negation on someone. ‘I did not intend you to experience this as harm’ is another one, and goes with ‘it is for your own good.’ Attendant concepts include ‘I know best’ or ‘I know more than you.’

Whether or not the intended process is actually doing you any good, to tell someone it is without recognising that they feel otherwise, is patronising. It’s another way of taking away, reducing the person on the receiving end. It might be your body, your heart, your mind, your home, your child that is suffering… but someone else knows better and says you should take it. They might even go so far as to suggest that you should be grateful for all this helpful stuff they are doing to you.

It’s disempowering. For anyone who is less than totally confident (and if you’re bruised already, you’ll likely be there) it’s hard to be sure. It makes it possible to end up accepting and tolerating hurtful things that are not in fact remotely for your own good. While this kind of patronising and reducing can be undertaken by people who are of the misguided belief that they are indeed right and do know better, it’s also an easy tool in the hands of those who intend to hurt and abuse. So whatever the professed intention, this kind of behaviour should always be resisted and challenged, because if it stops being something seen as ok, that’s one less tool for folk who want to abuse. It’s a very easy way of both harming and controlling a child. It is relatively normal for adults to tell children that they know best, and it’s for their own good.

If you are in a position of authority and responsibility – parent/child relationships being a good example, think carefully about how you express that authority. Yes, you probably do have more experience, more insight, you can see a bigger picture. If the other person needs to endure something they aren’t going to like (taking medicine, the pain of having a splinter pulled out, the discomfort of facing a fear etc) then put it in context for them. Tell them what you know and can see that makes you think it would be better and give them chance to give informed consent. Withholding what it is that ‘you know best’ about keeps power in your hands and prevents them from learning. Even with very young children and very confused people, there’s much to be said for offering some kind of explanation. It shows them that you take them seriously, you aren’t poo-pooing their hurt, you aren’t reducing them, you are actually trying to help. Don’t ask them to put blind faith in your ‘I know best,’ show them respect and explain what you know. However good you think your intentions are, if they learn to bow to ‘It’s for your own good’ you might be setting them up to be victims of someone who really does mean them harm. Knowledge is power. Don’t withhold it.

In whatever form it takes, true help gives to the person on the receiving end. It doesn’t lessen them, weaken them, make them dependent or dent their confidence. True help gets people back on their own feet and as independent as they can be. Anything that keeps a person limited, and takes power and autonomy from them is not actual help, it’s a nasty, manipulative form of control. And frankly, I don’t care whether it was ‘meant that way’ or not, the result is still the same and the result is what matters. Good intentions do not reliably make for good outcomes, especially when we imagine that we ‘know best’ and don’t listen to what the other person thinks and feels.

‘It’s for your own good’ is all about authority and power. It’s about asserting that I’m bigger, better, cleverer than you and making you accept my authority. If I do it, and I get away with it, maybe next time I think I know best I’ll take something else away. I’ll feel justified in hurting you, morally superior as I do it, telling you what you need to hear, even if it makes you cry, forcing you to do things you hate because you have to learn. If we go down this track together, I become a monster and you become a victim.

If someone says ‘it’s for your own good’ when it doesn’t feel that way to you, run, and don’t look back.

You Shouldn’t Feel That Way

One of the least helpful things a person can do is tell someone else that they shouldn’t feel how they are feeling. No matter how well intentioned the comment, it never helps and is inherently harming. This is newly learned stuff for me. I have the right to feel however I am feeling. It does not matter how uncomfortable or inconvenient other people find those emotions, I am entitled to feel however I actually feel. I’ll play out some frequent ‘you shouldn’t feel that way’ scenarios in this blog and flag up the issues and better ways of handling them.

Because I didn’t mean it. This is useful information if it’s actually true. If you want it to be taken as such say sorry as well. Find out why the upset person took it the way they did and you will know more for next time. Maybe it was a communication breakdown. Maybe there are things you do not know. If you are asking them to hear that there was no intention to hurt then you have to hear that they ARE hurt and deal with that. An honourable person takes responsibility for the unintended consequences of their actions. An abusive person will use the line ‘you shouldn’t feel that way because I didn’t mean to hurt you’ and phrases like it to enable them to get away with abuse and to shift responsibility onto the victim. If you sincerely meant no harm, then it is vital to acknowledge when you have accidentally caused it.

You should be over it by now. Often applied to people who have not recovered from grief or anger. This is about the needs of the speaker, not the needs of the one who is upset. If what you mean is ‘I can’t cope with this,’ ‘I don’t understand why this is affecting you so much,’ or ‘I am not interested in how you feel’ then it is more honourable to acknowledge it is so. No one is obliged to deal with how someone else feels, and if you can’t cope it may be better to step back. If someone else’s feelings are uncomfortable or inconvenient to you, do not make them responsible for that. You can most certainly ask them to BEHAVE in a different way but not to FEEL in a different way.

Because it’s stupid/pointless/irrational/excessive/does not make sense to me. Just because you wouldn’t feel that way in the same circumstances, or do not understand the reaction you are seeing does not make it ok to invalidate the other person’s emotions. They are not you, and they feel differently. If you feel they are over-reacting, you will not change that by putting them down. Acknowledge how they feel, talk about the context with them. Be at least as willing to listen as to offer your opinion. They are allowed to respond differently to you. They have a different history, different emotional triggers, different issues and they perceive differently.

Because you’re upsetting me. When someone else’s emotions cause us pain it’s tempting to want to make them stop it. But again, start from the assumption that if you are entitled to feel upset right now, so are they, and a playground style ‘he started it’ won’t help. Expressing difficulty with behaviour is one thing – if someone is shouting, or hysterical then saying that you are upset by their behaviour is fine. They are responsible for how they manifest their emotions.

It is very hard to control how you feel – that’s part of the nature of emotions. We do have a fair amount of control over how we express them, and if all else fails it’s usually possible to walk away for a few moments and seek composure. Acting in the heat of emotion is seldom productive. Denying someone else the space to have their own feelings is abusive all by itself and leaves them vulnerable to further abuse. We all have the right to feel, and we never have the right to deny someone else their emotions. We have the right to ask others to handle their emotions with honour, and we have the duty to do the same ourselves, as far as is humanly possible. When someone says ‘you shouldn’t feel that way’ they are taking something precious away from the person on the receiving end. They are taking away that person’s confidence that they are entitled, and allowed to feel. It is a rubbishing of a person’s most essential self, and never, ever ok. I’ve been on the wrong end of this too many times and from here onwards am taking a zero tolerance policy. I am not going to be told how I should, or should not feel and I am not going to trust anyone who thinks they are entitled to do that. Knowing what it does to a person, I will not let this one go unchallenged any time I encounter it.

A matter of choice

It’s going to be a hard week. However, as I try and deal with my crippling bouts of anxiety, I have to remind myself that it’s going to be a hard week because I did not choose the easy option. There usually are easy ways round and out of things – admitting defeat, stepping back, not fighting for beliefs or principles. There is always opportunity to pick the way of least hassle. And I didn’t.

So here I am, unhappy and anxious, and knowing I have some hard things to get through before there’s any hope of it improving. And I chose this. Every time the thought of what I’ve got to get through threatens to intimidate me into a whimpering heap, I remind myself that I am here because I refused to go the easy route. And I refused to go the easy route because that would have meant betraying someone else’s trust. Sure, I could have avoided a whole heap of trouble, expense and stress, but at what price? The loss of my self respect, the loss of my honour and integrity, and the betrayal of someone who is counting on me to get through this week, do the right things and get the right results.

From a short term perspective, acting with honour frequently isn’t safe or expedient. If immediate gain and/or ease are your priority, having integrity is just going to slow you down. But what is life without honour? What kind of a life do you have if the only thing of importance is being comfortable and safe right now? You can’t know love or relationship if you always put yourself first. Love is the act of putting something external to yourself before your own needs. The easy choices frequently do not permit that. If the rule is ‘I must be safe and comfortable at any cost’ – as it seems to be for some people – then the cost can be horrific.

In every choice we make, we choose who we are. I chose the hard way. I chose to put someone else first, and now I’ve got to follow through on the implications of that. But I’m fighting for the wellbeing of someone I love far more than I love myself, and I am demonstrating that love in a very visible and meaningful way. I may not be going to be able to get it all right, fixed and as it should be, but I will try. In terms of relationship, that I tried will mean something even if I fail. I’m afraid of failing, but far more disturbed by the potential consequences of not stepping up.

Whatever else comes, I can hold that thought as a talisman. I chose this path, and I chose it because it was the right one, and I knew it wouldn’t be easy. Wherever it goes, I will walk it still possessed of my honour, still holding a sense of self that I need not feel any kind of shame over. I may not win through the next few days, but even if I fail at this round, I won’t give up – because that too would be an easy, dishonourable choice and I have chosen to be a person who does the right thing, irrespective of the trouble it causes me.