With Honor

January 27, 2011

I recently discovered a new blog that I like a lot – Gregory Farley’s Voices of Leadership. Greg is an active duty, senior non-commissioned officer (NCO) in the US Navy. Greg’s blog is unique because it is written from the perspective of someone that is still up to his ears in the challenges and hindrances of daily organizational life.

Today he wrote about company culture and shared the Navy Creed. The creed contains the idea of serving with honor, and being the pedantic nerd that I am, it got me thinking about what that really means.

I looked at several online dictionaries, and defining honor was not as easy as I thought it would be. Honesty, integrity, fairness, dignity, and distinction were all terms used to describe honor as it relates to behavior. I think the definition of honor is more ambiguous than it should be. My concern is that if honor can mean many things, then it can too easily mean nothing.

One definition I really liked, buried (#9) in only one list I found was extending social courtesies and civilities. Observing people that behave with honor by this definition is becoming increasingly rare. Too many neglect this way of behaving with honor in their pursuit of honor as privilege and prominence.

Honor is something too many feel entitled to, not responsible for.

If you asked 50 people from your organization what they thought it meant to behave with honor, I bet you would get a lot of puzzled looks or flippant smirks. To be honest, when was the last time you gave serious thought about what it meant to behave with honor?

Has honor become a commodity?

I want to know what you think, so please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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Comments (21)

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  1. Bret,
    Great question, thanks for sharing.
    I guess I probably view Honor and Integrity as on ein the same. I never really thought of why, Honor seems to be a code only reserved for the military, as I write this I know that is not true, but that was my immediate reaction. When I speak with my boys about the way I hope they run their lives I often speak of Integrity, Honesty, Responsibility to not just self but to community and friends, Passion. I also speak of the ramifications if you chose to ignore any of them in your actions. I wonder how close to Honor those traits lie?

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    You are doing your children a great service, Charlie. Honor certainly is central to military values, but I don’t think it has to be exclusive to the military. I’d like to think it’s one of their values because it is an important value of the societies they serve. Thanks! Bret

  2. Debra says:

    Hi Bret, thanks for posting this great topic. The ancient words for “honor” relate to “heaviness.” To honor someone was to regard him/her as amounting to something, esteemed, valuable, precious. You’re right; treating others honorably is lacking in this world but when doing so, even those who do not have an official position or title feel and respond to it. What a great foundation for business and personal relationships, and deserve much more than a passing thought.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Thanks for sharing that, Debra! I think that would make a great Lexy broadcast for you 🙂 Bret

  3. Bret,
    Great topic! The words “honor” or “honorable”, much like the word “hero” are in my humble opinion used too freely and incorrectly in today’s venacular. I believe that many people have a preconceived feeling of what honor is…but they don’t truly understand the meaning of the word.

    And, I agree with your assertion that you would probably get blank stares if you asked people to define honor.

    Thanks for another great post!

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Important words and the behaviors they describe like honor and integrity deserve our careful consideration. Thanks, Sharon! Bret

  4. Thank you so much for challenging us to dig deeper to have a better understanding of what honor means to us individually and for creating a defining moment for growth opportunity. You inspired the following: http://teleraacklmt.wordpress.com/2011/01/27/honor/

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Thank you for contribution your thoughts to the conversation, Tele! Bret

  5. Paris Romero says:


    I love to read your work. It falls so naturally with my upbringing and my life. Many times I feel I’m a bit out there in my thoughts, just to have them reaffirmed by your words.

    Being a military brat, Honor became a part of our vocabulary. When we moved to Okinawa, my brother and I learned of another definition of Honor. During orientation, we were informed that our behavior, as American children, would be most representative to “the rest of the world”. Be Honorable to the Okinawans; as they are in their culture.

    My brother and I brought those lessons home – they are still a part of our daily lives. We are considered a bit archaic by other people of our generation – but it’s a good place to be.

    Thank you Bret. Once again you reinforce my commitment to this “old fashioned” way of life.


  6. Julio says:

    Wow! Interesting question. Honor in my opinion is a subjective word because who should qualify the honor of a person or a honorable action? and how is this qualified? Honor may be good for someone and bad for others. In those circunstances, honor could be become a commodity.

    Paris Romero Reply:

    Absolutely. Today we hear of Honor in regards to Suicide Bombings. There is also Honor Amongst Thieves. I have some friends that have confused Honor Thy Mother and Father to allow their parents to hurt them (I don’t think the intent was meant in circumstances of abusive parents).

    The goal would be to be of wisdom and have the good people of life surround you.

    As you put it; Perspective.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome back, Paris! Your experiences have given you a lot of perspective on honor. Thanks for sharing! Bret

  7. Bret,
    Wow, I don’t know what to say. Thank you so much for speaking such kind words about my blog. I am humbled by your generosity. Thank you again, you are much appreciated.

    Gregory Farley

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Gregory! Would not recommend it if it was not good. Keep up the great work! Bret

  8. Mike Hedgecock says:

    Bret, Great Post. Honor, in my opinion, is one of the highest levels of behavior we, particularly as leaders, can achieve. There have been times in my career when it was difficult to hold the honorable line. But each time I have, I have been so thankful I did. You never have to say your sorry when you hold the honorable line.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Mike. As you point out, and Forest Gump’s mama would agree, honor is as honor does. Thanks! Bret

  9. linda welch says:

    Honor to have a high esteemed adoration for a subject or person worthy of high respect, grattitude and appreciation. I also am a massage, therapist and believe that grattitude for the value of each unique individual is a Inspired Gift.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Linda. Thanks for sharing, Bret

  10. My first “real” job – and a formative event in my life – was working as a civilian contractor at West Point (United States Military Academy).

    Duty, Honor, Country – the creed of the cadets – is more than a catchphrase there. They live by those words day in, day out.

    My takeaway from the time I spent there – honor to me means reliability, integrity, honesty, respect, and loyalty.

    And, unfortunately, we are in little danger of commoditizing those qualities.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Thanks, Geoff. Sound like your career got off to a great start. Thanks for sharing. Bret