Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Honorable Mention

There's a virtue that seems to be in danger of disappearing into the annuls of western civilization which, once reclaimed, might just have the ability to turn the tides of this culture war we're waging.

Honor, (or "ahhhh-nor," as Gary Smalley would put it) is a quality we've all but lost sight of, most notably in our dealings with the opposite sex. While watching Jane Austin's Sense and Sensibility last night, I was deeply affected by the sense of integrity that imbued the lives of each of the characters. And it was no afterthought to them! There was no contrived sense of obligation which constrained their passions... rather, it was their very way of living, an act of the will freely chosen in obedience to existing moral realities.

Fascinating. And largely foreign to my modern sensibilities, I found, while waiting impatiently for the main male character to ditch his fiance for "true love," holding my breath and praying he'd make the right choice, that he'd "follow his heart."

Was there ever a more insidious term than that? Where exactly are we to follow our hearts, if they are not conformed to a greater reality, formed in the image of something or Someone greater than ourselves? Think about it. We reverence and respect, often blindly, the emotions, the affections of the human heart. Is there a more changeable aspect of the human person we might base our most serious decisions upon? I would argue not, and yet modern man clings to the pursuit of passion as the greatest and highest good.

This is the rationale with which many affairs are justified, families are broken apart, promises are violated... something has subverted our sense of honor, of obligation to one another and, ultimately, to God, replacing what was once the noblest aspect of the human person with that which is most base. We've traded free will for feelings, and the crumbling state of interpersonal affairs and human relations is testament to this sad reality.

Austin's characters in Sense and Sensibility captivated me, but not only for their novelty. True, I've yet to encounter many men (aside from my father) who would willingly sacrifice personal happiness in order to honor obligation, and I certainly don't pretend I might be able to practice the self denial and composure exhibited by the eldest Dashwood sister. But their behavior, however foreign, was still haunting for its familiarity.

As impossible as some of the choices, made for the sake of propriety or to honor previous commitments, seemed to my modern sensibilities, there was a recognizable rightness to it all; and with a sense of resignation even I, woman of the the 21st century, was able to accept the difficult truths these characters bowed before.

Yes, difficulties arise in this life - they often do. No, things don't always go the way we plan them to... how frequently this is the case! But the real test of character is here, in the crucible of disappointment, when we decide what our principles are and whether or not they're strong enough to bear our weight.


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