Word of the Day: Honour

May 20, 2016 04.00PM |

by Tan Chu Chze

‘HONOUR’ must be very important for it to have its own party. The Honour International Symposium 2016 was held yesterday (May 19) by Honour (Singapore) in honour of the honour that made Singapore what it is today.

Yet, as honourable as honouring honour might be, the idea of honour adopted seems a bit sketchy. Neither MSM’s report on the symposium nor Honour (Singapore)’s webpage offers any clear insights on one essential question: What do they mean by ‘honour’?

My first encounter with the notion of ‘honour’ probably started in Sunday School. Honour your parents. Honour God. In my 10-year-old brain that meant: Do what you are told. Honour was a way to make obedience noble.

Years later, ‘honour’ resurfaced in my National Service experience. My unit operated under an elegant motto: For Honour and Glory. What that meant was more than a respect for my immediate authority: ‘Honour’ was a reverence for the soil (and concrete) I live on; the imperative to serve and protect it; the pride of carrying that duty out with excellence; and the privilege of earning respect and recognition. I learnt that honour was something one had to give, in order to gain.

But more years later has only shown me that ‘honour’ cannot be understood only in these terms.

For example, the annual observance of qingming – which my family doesn’t do – is also an expression of ‘honour’; Experiences of National Service could (read: mostly) have little or nothing to do with ‘honour’ for many individuals; Worse still, some versions of ‘honour’ could compel violence – even to one’s own family.

Evidently, what is meant by ‘honour’, especially in a movement like Honour (Singapore), is actually not obvious at all. For one, Honour (Singapore) does not appear to drive at any of the suggestions for ‘honour’ I spelt out.

‘Honour’ is highly subjective in action even though we can largely agree in word. Sure, ‘honour’ means “respect” – but how does one show that? Maybe there’s some exotic subculture out there that honours nose picking. Who is to say that isn’t honourable?

Perhaps a neater way to think of ‘honour’ is as keeping promises. Like the saying, “honour your word”. For honour to function, there has to be a code of honour – some set of rules that tells you what is honourable to do and what isn’t. Say my family’s code of honour is “obey your parents”. If my parents say “eat your veggies” and I faithfully abide by those words, it becomes an act of honour. But, if I don’t, then shame on me.

That means ‘honour’ is as much about action as it is about words. ‘Honour’ arises when what is done agrees with what is believed should be done (a code of honour). Or in other words, ‘honour’ is based on our actions and words.

The irony is Honour (Singapore) pitches it the other way round. Mdm Halimah Yacob, speaking at the Symposium, aptly captured it: “Our words and actions are based on honour.” ‘Honour’ is seen as a guiding principal, or as Honour (Singapore) puts it, a “blueprint” on which our nation was built.

So Honour (Singapore) has gotten the chicken before the egg. In short, they are telling us to act on honour without saying what honour is acting on. This apparent lack of an unified code of honour – or at least one that is locally understood – is probably what made Honour (Singapore) suspect to Christian agendas when it first started in 2014.

Regardless, this doesn’t make their cause any less worthy… it seems Honour (Singapore) has an idea of some sort of code of honour, one that involves remembering, appreciating, and connecting different members of society, so we can work together to improve Singapore.

What is left for Honour (Singapore) to articulate are the values and principles which they hope will guide our sense of ‘honour’. Personally, I can already think of two easily accessible resources for that: our national anthem and pledge.

They may not have the word ‘honour’ in them; but, if their words are honoured, I think our anthem and pledge would more than suffice Honour (Singapore)’s cause.


Featured Image by Sean Chong.

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