Raise Your Honor High

Ah, but the healing is a wonderful thing to see. Daily, each of you earn more and more and more honor for us all. Your courage, your actions, your compassion, is an hourly ratcheting up of our honor.

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Illustration by Sequoia Blankenship.Illustration by Sequoia Blankenship.My wife, the Sarge, was on her department's honor guard, and when you watched that team of officers present the colors or stand guard over the fallen, you had a pretty firm grip on the "to give respect and reverence to" meaning of the word "honor."

The ancient Greeks, on the other hand, used the term honor to mean "glory" and for them that was a very intense motivator. Achilles was given a choice by the gods to have a long quiet life, say as an accountant, or a short intense one as a great warrior who would earn great glory; he immediately chose an early exit and an eternal place in anatomy books.

The "glory" meaning has been further tempered to a more general sense of holding someone in esteem, as in "She is a woman of honor," and conversely "He dishonored the team." Then there are those who assert that these social meanings have gone the way of the mastodon and some say good riddance.

As we explore honor further, we find it has some subtexts that mean brutality and inhumanity. In societies that hold honor above all else, defining it as "what others think of me," people kill for an affront, a slight, even a mistake if it hurts the honor of a clan, family, or group. "Honor killings" are hard for most of us to fathom today, but by the outbreak of the Civil War in our own country, one-third of all Naval officer deaths were the result of duels. Ask Alexander Hamilton about upholding honor on a dueling field.

In his book, "Honor: A History," James Bowman explains how honor has changed in the past century and how it still holds a place in a civil society. What others think about us is an important component, but so is demonstrating a keen sense of ethical conduct and a core of integrity. That we are held in esteem by our "honor group" is one of our primary concerns. In the case of law enforcement officers that would be the whole of the society of a free people whom we protect and serve.

When you first put on your badge at your graduation ceremony, there was an internal switch that was thrown, a sense unleashed. Pride? Sure. But it was something deeper, something tying you forever to all who have worn that "shield" that you felt. It's all about the shield. Even the name "shield" implies a lineage to our warrior past, where a soldier could be forgiven for losing a sword but never for lowering a shield and exposing those next to him in the phalanx.

Then what of us? How does someone "lower the shield" today? How does it affect us when it happens and what should we do?

I am the first to acknowledge there is a carping, whining group in our society that we will never please, and we will never be "righteous" in their eyes. And frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn. As Bowman says, those people are not in our honor group, the ones whose opinions of us really matter. They will never go away and one of the great gifts of life many learn is to just stop letting them get to us. But the ones who do matter, the ones who do respect us and honor us, they are sacred, they are the mission, they are the ones for whom we must zealously protect and preserve our honor.

When one of us dishonors himself, he dishonors all of us in the eyes of those who matter, and the more they matter the more we hold our honor dear and suffer loss from his actions. This is the root of the deep revulsion we feel when we read of some officer doing something wrong and disgraceful because our collective honor is bruised.

Ah, but the healing is a wonderful thing to see. Daily, each of you earn more and more and more honor for us all. Your courage, your actions, your compassion, is an hourly ratcheting up of our honor. If you don't see it in the eyes of children when you walk into a restaurant, or in the faces of those watching the funeral of one of our fallen, or the warm smile of that elderly widow you took just a few extra minutes to listen to after her home, her heart, had been burglarized, then please open your eyes and see clearly.

Each of you earns honor for the rest of us in all the good acts you do, and one of my most fervent prayers is that I never have done or will do anything to tarnish our honor. Thank you for all you do in preserving this precious gift.

Dave Smith is an internationally recognized law enforcement trainer and is the creator of "JD Buck Savage." You can follow Buck on Twitter at @thebucksavage.

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Officer (Ret.)
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