Here’s a word that some feel old fashioned but one I feel is desperately needed in the political climate in which we now live: honor.
What does it mean to be a person of honor? It means someone who is recognized not only for what they achieve but who they are — their character, in other words.
Fortunately, there are still people of honor who put public service above private gain, who try to live ethically by adhering to certain principles such as fairness and integrity, and who strive for the common good rather than selfish outcomes.
Unfortunately, there are others who put their own gains above the public good, whose principles are secondary to winning at any cost, and who attack those with whom they have disagreements.
There’s another often-unused word that describes honorable people: Character. A person of character is someone of moral excellence, someone we hold up to help guide us.
Here’s another description you don’t spoken often enough when it comes to who we honor: role model. A role model is someone we identify as worthy of being followed.
I know there are some people alive today who are role models, but I am interested in citing two from the past who are often used to guide us today: Marcus Aurelius, emperor of the Roman Empire during its Golden Age, and George Washington, president of the United States in its earliest years of the republic. Both men were both political and military leaders.
Aurelius, who died in 121, was also a philosopher. His book of meditations is still cited today for its guidance on how best to live. If you want to read a book about how best to be an ethical leader, reading his meditations is a great place to begin.
Aurelius offered four critical habits that lead to an ethical life, especially for those who lead others:
- Accept only what is true.
Work for the common good.
Live within what is in our control.
Embrace whatever nature assigns us.
Aurelius wrote that we are shaped by what we think. He also wrote a pithy warning: “The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.”
Washington, a military and political leader during the formative years of our republic, was a role model still looked up to today. It was his character that was honored and the basis for those who followed him.
Character is usually instilled in childhood and nurtured later in life. Who we are is often set in our early years. There’s a great story about Washington’s early years told by Kenneth C. Davis is his book “America’s Hidden History.”
Washington received a rudimentary grammar school education in Virginia. Davis says the future president’s schoolboy notebooks contained a handwritten copy of a book on manners and ethics for living. Some of these rules for living seem to describe Washington himself later in his life, among them:
- Every action done in company, ought to be with some sign of respect to those who are present.
Be not forward but friendly and courteous.
Contradict not at every turn what others say.
Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.
Perhaps what we need today are more honorable political leaders who work for the common good not their own interests, and who can serve as ethical role models for our us, especially our children.
Perhaps a question to shape who we support for political office should be: Is this person someone I would want my children to be like?
John C. Morgan is a writer who taught philosophy and ethics at the college level.
Source: Berkshire mont