The Shadow of Honor

I was talking with Ashran the other night about something that is an extension of the “women are evil, men are stupid” philosophy that Graves came up with a while ago. It’s led to the realization that some people are living in the shadow of honor (which led to an interesting side discussion of the shadow of awareness).

Ashran was commenting to me that, in his experience, there’s a difference in how women and men view their own reasoning in handling decision-making. I personally am not sure that it’s a hard-and-fast line drawn between the genders, but I think that for the majority of my experience, this generalization works. The theory is that when making a decision that puts the self before others, however right wrong or sideways, women tend to realize they are making a “selfish” decision and go with that. Men, on the other hand, avoid letting themselves realize when they are doing something for themselves, painting the action as really being for someone else, or being because of <insert justification here>.

Now, of course, not all people do this intentionally or maliciously, but it does lead to a big difference in handling making a “selfish” decision. For instance, say that a person has borrowed a book from a friend and that friend wants the book back. Say that person doesn’t want to give the book back because they aren’t done with it. Going with this theory, a woman in that situation might think that simply she was not ready to give the book back (for whatever reason, maybe she’s not done with it yet). A man in that situation might make it out (to himself) to be a matter of selflessness (maybe he can’t give the book back yet because he’s not done helping someone else).

Here’s some other practical examples:

If someone wants to hold onto a relationship:
Woman: It would hurt me too much to leave
Man: It would hurt her too much if I left her

If someone wants to help someone out:
Woman: I want to help this person
Man: This person needs my help
(subtle, but different)

If someone loses their temper: Woman: I yelled at him because I was pissed off Man: I wouldn’t have yelled if she didn’t piss me off

The point of the story here is that whenever we place “responsibility” or the reason for an action on someone else, we’re not taking personal responsibility for that action. Other people may factor into the decision, but ultimately that decision is made by the person making it. By saying you’re doing something for someone else, when the reason deep down inside is because of our own wants, we potentially create the facade of nobility which overlays selfishness (again, “selfish” is not necessarily bad, just not the same as “altruistic”).

This can lead to differences in how we’re viewed when making a “selfish” decision. A person who is honest about why they are making the decision might have a better chance of being viewed as “selfish”, whereas a person who makes the decision out to be for the benefit of others might have a better chance of being viewed as “a nice, giving person” or “victim” (depending on the situation). It is pretty simple to do something for one’s own benefit and make it seem like it was for someone else’s benefit. Again, most peope don’t do this intentionally. What determines the difference between selfishness and altruism is both intention and how much that decision affects one personally. The difference between someone who is selfish or altruistic by nature is how much they are willing to give of what they have on a regular basis even if it affects them or inconveniences them.

For instance, supposing I go out to dinner with someone and I can’t finish my food. Offering that food to my friend isn’t really altruistic, I wasn’t going to eat it anyway. It’s something that benefits my friend but doesn’t really inconvenience me. On the other hand, supposing that this same friend wants to go out to dinner with me but doesn’t have the money. If I pay for hir, that’s money out of my pocket, and an inconvenience. (It gets more complicated if I do it for other reasons that are more self-serving, but I think the point is made.) If I regularly do things for others that don’t inconvenience myself, I can present the front of of altruism, however true or false. However, if I am not willing to do things for others that inconvenience myself, I’m not really altruistic. Similarly, if I am honorable only when it’s in my best interest, that’s not real honor; that is the shadow of honor. It is a facade with no substance behind it.

So, to wrap this ramble up, it’s possible to present the front of something, yet live in it’s shadow and not actually live that thing. It’s the difference between superficially doing something or paying lip service to it and really living it, really making it a part of one’s self. And it gets back to personal responsibility. If I’m honest with myself about what I’m doing and why, then I can consciously make the choice of when to be selfish, when to be selfless, whether I’m going to be honorable or not, etc. If I never examine my motives and actions, it’s much easier to fool myself and others into believing something is “me” when it’s only on the surface, and much easier to think of myself as a more selfless/honorable/whatever person than my actions would attest to.

To tie this back into the original point, it’s real easy to kid yourself and say you’re doing something for somone else’s benefit, even if you are the one that wants that thing. This isn’t really selflessness; this isn’t really honor. It’s living in the shadow of honor. I think that if one wants to live honorably and intentionally, it’s critical to know one’s motives. It’s critical to understand and accept how one’s self as well as others are affected by each action one takes, and take responsibility for the action and the intentions behind it.

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