Virtue of the Week: Honor

Friends, …… of my favorite stories about “honor”.


The Lakota tribe was known as some of the greatest warriors of all time. They were feared in battle. Every young man was raised to be a warrior for the tribe. Within the tribe of warriors was a small group of men called the Red Shirt Warriors. The color red in Lakota culture stood for honor. They were the best of the best, a prestigious club that every young warrior wanted to strive to be a part of.

Every four years, the Red Shirt Warriors extended an invitation to a select few of the young warriors to test themselves in order to be admitted to the group. The physical tests were difficult and not all those invited were able to pass. The first tests were ones that allowed the young warriors to demonstrate the skills of battle – marksmanship, horsemanship etc. But the last test to earn membership to the elite group was a difficult test of endurance.

The test had a time limit of four days and was done during the hottest part of the year. Each young warrior was sent out by themselves, without food or water and only a knife for protection and told to follow a well-known path to a high shale cliff. They were instructed to climb the high cliff and recover a red sash that had been tied to a stone at the top of the mountain. Their goal was to recover the sash from the top of the cliff and return to camp with it within the four day time period. Little did they know that the tribal elders had actually placed two red sashes on the mountain. One rolled up tied red sash that when unfurled was about 6 feet long had been placed at the top of the mountain on the high cliff (which is the one they were instructed to return with), and one rolled up tied red sash that when unfurled was only about 3 feet long which had been placed at the bottom of the mountain just off the side of the trail and easily gotten.

Because of the difficulty and distance, the young warriors would usually get back by sunset of the fourth day, exhausted, thirsty and hungry. Upon arriving back to the tribe and before they were given any food or water, they were escorted into the lodge of the Red Shirt Warriors and asked to present the sash they had recovered. According to their stories, no one being tested ever returned without a red sash. The sash was to be held tightly in their hands. The young man was asked to hold one end of the sash at head height and let it unfurl toward the ground.

If it extended all the way to the ground, the man had gained membership and was considered a Red Shirt Warrior. If it did not reach the ground, he was denied membership, and never allowed another opportunity to join the elite group. No explanation was given to the ones denied and no explanation was ever needed, because it wasn’t just a test of endurance, but more importantly, a test of honor.

Honoring our Humanity in Others.

Failure to honor our humanity in others is a root cause for a lot of the pain and suffering that takes place in today’s society. Rather than look for the reflection of our own humanity in others, we often seek to de-humanize and de-individuate others so that it is easier to hurt them. Psychologically, it is necessary to categorize others as sub-human in order to legitimize bullying, meanness, and even violence. Instead of looking for commonalities, we look for differences that can separate others from our own humanity and turn them into objects rather than humans.

Dehumanization is a psychological process whereby we view each other as less than human and thus not deserving of moral consideration. Dehumanization can be as innocuous as calling someone a “nerd”, to horrendous examples like the Jews in the eyes of Nazis and Tutsis in the eyes of Hutus (in the Rwandan genocide). Every dehumanizing and dishonoring conflict strains relationships and makes it difficult for parties to recognize that they are part of a shared humanity. They don’t see their humanity in others because in their own minds, they have made their opponents sub-human. Such conditions often lead to feelings of intense hatred and alienation. In severe cases, dehumanization makes the violation of generally accepted norms of behavior regarding one’s fellow man seem reasonable, or even necessary.

De-individuation is another common way that we fail to honor our humanity in others. This is the psychological process whereby a person is seen as a member of a category or group rather than as an individual. We do this when we say “oh he’s a goth”, or a “hick”, or a “geek”, or a “jock”. Because people who are de-individuated seem less than fully human, they are viewed as less protected by social norms against aggression than those who are individuated. It then becomes easier to rationalize name calling, viciousness, prejudice, or even violence towards them.

Let’s turn this around. Let’s honor and celebrate the reflections of our own humanity that we see in others. Let’s look for our commonalities rather than our differences. In a world that desperately needs changing, and our humanity in the balance, let’s set an example and show others how to honor our humanity.

A short video clip about honoring our elderly:

Honor the Elderly