Tag Archives: honourable relationship

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.

Crafting Relationship

In my previous post I explored the necessity for equality in relationship. This doesn’t mean treating folk as identical. It’s actually (as Sparrowhawk pointed out – my thanks for that) a very passive state. Recognising equality, that we share humanity and the same basic rights to respect and dignity, doesn’t call for much active engagement.

True relationship is not passive, it is an active engagement. We shape it in word and action, define it through the ways in which we give it expression. It’s very easy to go into relationship carrying all our habits of thought and behaviour, all our assumptions. In previous essays I’ve explored some of the more dysfunctional things we might unwittingly bear with us.

Every relationship is different, so there can be no one right way of doing it. But that’s perhaps the first point to make – the importance of allowing each unique connection to find its own way, rather than trying to shoe-horn it into a predetermined shape.

To my mind, what defines relationship, is what we share. I’ve had connections wholly defined by the sharing of music, or druid ritual – folks I seldom saw in any other context. We have people we share work with, or share living space. I am not convinced that the sharing of blood makes relationship  because that doesn’t call for any active kind of doing. Relationship is more than an accident of birth. We can choose to craft relationship with blood family, or not, but we certainly shouldn’t assume it exists just because we share some genetic material.

The more we invest in the act of sharing, the more scope there is for deep and involved relationship. If we just skim along the surface, happening to share the same living space, the same office, or go to the same leisure club, than that’s a degree of acquaintance, but not much of a relationship. The more we do, the more we give of ourselves, the more relationship we are likely to find. That giving should be born of love, underpinned by care and respect. If we are seeking relationship just for the joy of being with a person, then we have a good foundation. As I’ve said before, if we’re looking for power, control, influence or an ego boost, it’s not relationship, it’s using.

To be able to offer care, love and respect in ways that are meaningful, we have to listen. Really it’s as simple as that, listen, pay attention, actually hear. Don’t impose assumptions about what the other will like, want, or need, just listen, find out. Part of the joy of relationship is in finding out who the other is, and in doing that, learning more about ourselves. If we go in swaddled in assumptions, we don’t get the chance to do that, and we miss out on all the best things that relationship, in all its many shapes, can offer.

Responsibility and Relationship

One of the things that I’ve found repeatedly comes up in literature about domestic abuse is that the abuser makes the victim responsible for their feelings. This is complicated, because to be in a relationship with someone is to hold responsibility, to a degree, for each other’s wellbeing. But what degree? How much responsibility should one person take for another and where is the line that crosses over into abuse? I realised I had absolutely no idea, so I sat down to try and figure it out rationally.

We are all responsible for our own behaviour. To act honourably is to take responsibility for what you do, and the consequences of what you do, both intended and unintended. That means if what you do impacts on someone in a negative way, then you hold some responsibility for it. Where emotions are concerned, not intending to hurt is frequently seen as a reason for the injured one to be at fault – you shouldn’t take it that way. (as previously explored) If we were talking about a physical situation, accidentally hurting someone because they have an old injury and we didn’t know, a bruise, a disability – I think most people would feel responsible then even though the physical pain caused was not intentional either. Emotional pain is the same. And equally, if something hurts us, we should be able to acknowledge it, because not being able to express pain is incredibly harmful.

I think the critical thing with the above scenarios, is that we’re talking about things people have control over. We’re asking people to take responsibility for things they can change – their behaviour, their assumptions, their ways of speaking. They can learn that we are hurt by this and adapt. If they care for us, they will not want to hurt us. A person who refuses to acknowledge that they have hurt you is not expressing care for you. Consider how you would expect them to behave if they had accidentally knocked you to the ground or trodden on your toes. This is the same.

However, consider “I am unhappy and you are responsible for this.” If it’s not about things that have, or have not been done, if it’s not offered with an explanation of how that responsibility can be taken, what that does is to cause pain. From my experience, this kind of approach is often subtle, which makes it harder. A person will present things they are unhappy about in a manner that suggests you are the one who must fix this, when in reality there is nothing you can do.

To express unhappiness about things that cannot be fixed is in and of itself fine. The death of a loved one being an obvious example. No one can make that better. But at the same time no one should be made to feel that they have a responsibility to make it better. My child worries about animal extinctions. He didn’t ask me to save the animals, but he shared his sadness, and I sponsored a tiger for him because it was something I could do to help. That’s a reasonable ask on his part, a healthy response on mine.

Stress, anxiety and depression are complicated, often irrational and illogical conditions. If a person is expressing experience of these, then if you are part of their life, it can be very easy to feel, or to be made to feel somehow responsible. I think the question is, can you do anything? If there is something you can actually do that genuinely makes a positive difference, there is scope for taking responsibility and it’s not necessarily abusive to be asked to be being responsible. If you are being made responsible, treated as responsible where you have no actual power to change things, then this is about abuse. It is about creating feelings of guilt and powerlessness in you and/or enabling the other person not to take responsibility for things they do have the power to tackle.

A request for help or an expression of need should focus on what the problem is and where the person you are asking to take responsibility for it can act. Power and responsibility have to go together. Power without responsibility is dishonourable. Responsibility without power is nightmarish and maddening. If one person has the power and the other bears the responsibility, then you’re moving out of relationship and into abuse.

Relationship

How we understand and undertake relationship is a huge part of our total life experience. It informs not only our interactions with other humans, but how we understand ourselves, and how we relate to the planet and its many non-human residents.

How do we learn this vital aspect of life? No one formally teaches us how to have relationships. Many of us go through without ever sitting down and considering how we treat other people or expect them to treat us. Many people never think at all about their relationship with the planet. When things go horribly wrong we may be forced to sit down with our ideas and assumptions to start the process of figuring out what actually works, and what was rubbish all along.

We learn relationship by watching our parents. What happened to us back before we can consciously remember it will have set the groundwork for our ideas of what relationship is. We learn from how people treat us – from the moment of arrival onwards. We learn from our siblings and how the adults around us encourage us to be. We continue the behaviours that bring rewards (and attention is reward, so many children end up courting a telling off because it’s the only attention they get).

As we grow we unconsciously pick up more information about what other people do and what is generally considered normal and acceptable. School, wider community, and television play their part. How many people have the drama of soap opera colouring their notions of acceptable human interactions? How many people learn from the daytime television freak shows where the most dysfunctional people are encouraged to shout at each other in public? When you stop and look at the way we portray relationship in the entertainment industry, it’s all about drama, tension and difficulty. Because that makes for the most immediate stories. It doesn’t tell us how to do actual relationship, but if you spend more time with the TV than interacting with actual people, do you know that?

I have some huge and dangerous blind spots around my ideas of how people can and should treat me. I’m poised to have to do a great deal of scrutinising of my beliefs and assumptions about relationship. I’m also investing a lot of time at the moment trying to work out in a rational sense where the boundary lines ought to be. How should we treat others? What do we have the right to expect? What does honourable relationship really mean? I’m going to try and work out, and express, what it means to undertake good relationship, and what is not acceptable. Not based on soap opera drama or what I’ve taken for ‘normal’ but based on what is honourable, fair and just. It’s an area that also raises issues about power, authority, ownership and social justice, so as I explore the main theme I expect I’ll be branching out in all kinds of directions.

For anyone coming with me, thank you for taking the time to read, and an extra big thank you to those of you who share stories and become an active part of the exploration.

Care and Respect

Relationship is not a status update on facebook. It’s not a thing we make once, and can then take for granted. Whether we’re thinking in terms of inter-human relationships, our connections with places, creatures or groups, relationship is something we do, moment to moment. It’s not enough just to label it and assume it will conform to that shape.

Good relationship, as best I can make out, is shaped by two things – care, and respect. Everything that happens within a good relationship is underpinned by these two concepts, or comes as an expression of them. How we express care and respect defines our relationships. There are many different way of manifesting these critical sentiments – with words, actions, in tone of voice, in body language… we can speak of care and respect with our whole selves, or we can fall short. If we lose tempers, shout, blame, use, force, deride or otherwise put down, we are failing. Once we go down that route with a connection, it ceases to be good and honourable relationship. Once mistakes are made, it’s not easy to rectify them – not impossible, but that calls for courage and a willingness to relinquish pride.

One of the features of bad relationship, so far as I have seen, is that a person who is not demonstrating care and respect will always have justification for doing so. If you find yourself in this situation, look hard at your reasons and at yourself. What do you want to achieve? If the answer is anything other than equitable relationship, then there are serious questions of honour to consider. If the relationship is broken such that care and respect for the other are beyond you, is revenge or point scoring appropriate? It can be appealing, but this is not a response that encourages peace or brings honour.

If a relationship is broken beyond any scope for care and respect, the honourable thing to do is acknowledge it as such and move away. If a person behaves with carelessness, malice or disrespect such that holding a peaceable line of care and respect becomes impossible, moving away is essential. Some people mistake peacefulness for weakness, and service for willing slavery. No matter what the named relationship, we do not owe care and respect where none is given in return.

No relationship runs smoothly all the time. We all have our moments. However, a relationship underpinned by care and respect will endure, even if those in it flail and struggle. Where care and respect are absent, there is no true relationship. There may be the illusion of connection, there may be some possessive word to hold people in place, but there is no real relationship. There may be use, convenience, power trip and trophyism, but there is nothing honourable.

If what you see does not look like care and respect, then it probably isn’t. Speak clearly about the ways in which you need to be treated to feel cared for and respected – we’re all different and it’s always worth having a go. Care should always be on the terms of the person receiving it. If it is in any way unwelcome, forced, or wrongly shaped, then no matter what the professed intent it is not true care, and not true relationship.

When these two essential things are present in a relationship, there is strength, scope for profound trust, plenty of room for love to flourish and for all involved to benefit in many ways. We are nourished by such relationships. We grow in them, find joy and security as a consequence of them. They are one of the greatest blessings available to a person – to all people. Manifesting care and respect in all things takes effort and attention. It will often call on us for generosity, patience, kindness, understanding, willingness to listen, empathy, but we will find those returned to us as we come to need them ourselves. Consciously building honourable relationship with others is an act of beauty and spirit.

Mindful Living

As I see it, to be a Druid is to choose to live mindfully. Druidry is not something to be picked up at the weekend, or only for ritual, it’s a daily dedication informing everything we do. Anyone can study Druidry at any level, but being a Druid is a full time dedication.

In order to make Druidry a total commitment, the individual practitioner has to consciously act as a Druid in everything they do. If it sounds like a lot of effort, that’s because initially, it is. It means doing everything consciously, all the time. Down to the smallest details and most insignificant choices. It is impossible to live ethically or act honourably unless you are paying attention to everything.

For many people, not noticing or realising seems to be a valid excuse for making a bad call. If you seek honourable relationship and ethical living, carelessness and obliviousness cease to be options you have. They stop feeling like an acceptable justification. I’ve felt for some time now that doing something wrong through lack of care and attention is in many ways worse than doing it deliberately. At least the deliberate offender might have some genuine reason, even if it is a misguided one.

Rare is the circumstance in which we truly do not have time to think before we act. Most of the time, there is no justification for speaking thoughtlessly, not saying what we mean, or mouthing off in anger. Every moment of our lives we choose who we are and express it in our actions. To be a Druid means still being a Druid in the heat of an argument, and in stupid discussions on internet boards. We don’t leave our Druidry hugging trees when we engage with the rest of our lives. If Druids of old drew meaning from the flight of birds, they must have spent a lot of time paying attention to what was going on around them. We should aspire to do no less.

Every thought, word and action needs to be considered. Is this an expression of my Druidry? It’s never ok to become smug and complacent with it either, to assume that you’ve got the habit and can trust that what you do thoughtlessly will be fine. It’s a hard path to walk, but that’s part of the point. To do anything well takes effort and dedication. To be the best kind of person you possibly can be requires ongoing care and attention. And of course we all get it wrong, and fall short, but it’s the learning and striving that are critical.

Help!

Being a good natured, well meaning chap, James likes to be helpful. We’ve had a fair few interesting discussions around this, as he’s learned about the issue. Like most children, James started out with play helping – and frequently that’s entirely unhelpful. I wondered about letting him do that, but opted to very gently suggest that helping in an actually helpful way would be more use. He turned out to be totally open to this. Since then he’s become really good at responding to requests for help, and asking what help is needed rather than assuming he knows.

It’s very easy, when trying to help, to end up swamping, disempowering or depressing the person you meant to assist. It’s an easy time to accidentally patronise, or make the recipient feel that they’re not doing well enough as it is. “Is there anything I can do to help?” is much better than “Let me do that for you.” Or worse yet, “I can do that properly.” How we offer help shows our respect, or lack thereof for people.

If a person needs help because they are in difficulty, it means pretty much by definition that they have lost control of something. That might be through ill health, misfortune, injury, job loss, or any number of small or vast setbacks. The one thing a person in crisis needs more than anything else, is not to lose more autonomy. Genuine help means not taking more power from that person. It’s always easier to see the solutions to other people’s problems than our own, but rushing in with too much enthusiasm can do more harm than good. ‘Help’ that denies a person choices, or disempowers them in any way, is not useful.

If you want to help, with anything or anyone, then begin by asking what you can do. Don’t assume you know what they need, or even that you know what the problem is without checking. Ask what the other person needs, how you can support them, what they would like. Be willing to listen. Unless they are in a coma or otherwise totally unable to act on their own behalf, don’t act for them without consent, that can add to distress. Give a distressed person as much time as you can to speak for themselves and make their own choices. It’s not just a matter of fixing whatever the short term issues are, consider their longer term needs, dignity and sense of self.

If we rush in too fast, we can cause more harm than good. It’s so easy to railroad a person who is already in distress. The loss of control that goes with crisis creates fear, anxiety, and can make a person feel they do not know how to cope. Coming in and rushing someone can increase the feeling of lost control and make it harder for them to make good choices. To give true aid, it must be offered on the terms of the one who needs it, not on the terms of the ‘helper’ or what we do can easily make a bad situation worse.