Honor, Valor, Humility

"Today's the Day!!!" – Mel Fisher

Honor, Valor, and Humility

As I continue to keep this question of what our Crusader Culture is in the back of my mind (consequently learning more about “culture” than my four year degree in Comparative Cultures and Politics ever taught me), I bumped up against the question of what honor, valor, and humility are. I know the answer, vaguely. I could use the skills I learned obtaining my four year degree to say words that sounded right with all the confidence (and hubris) of a college graduate. But I hadn’t studied the words. I wouldn’t really know. So instead, I figured that it might be valuable to actually put in the work to study those concepts and post it here, appropriately, on the “Honor, Valor, Humility” blog. Enjoy!

Honor – The Code to Which We Bind Ourselves

Honor (or alternatively, honour) has a very different meaning today than where it originated. In fact, in early medieval times, honor referred to a group of lands or estates held by a noble family. The phrase “on my honour” (still used today in the Boy Scout Oath) was not just a guarantee on the character of the person saying it, but a literal offer to put one’s land or estate up as a pledge or guarantee that their word was good. When someone staked their honour on something, that was a big deal! If they didn’t hold true to themselves and their word, they could lose their lands and estates, which back then would mean losing their social and economic standing- a matter of grave danger when the poor didn’t even have basic cable!

Today, honor is more of an abstract concept of which importance has declined in Western society. That said, a culture of honor is still an important culture to maintain- even if we don’t do it as much as we should. A culture of honor goes beyond a culture of law. A culture of law, where laws are made and enforced by a third party when broken, protects most people from having no recourse when crimes are committed against them. A culture of honor, on the other hand, enforces by character on everyone not to do wrong. It suggests that we should only do that which is good for others, and indeed, that where are honor-bound to do so. Actions that aren’t covered under a culture of law, such as ostracizing or bullying others, scamming or cheating in business deals through loopholes, or not treating others kindly or fairly in social relationships, are covered under a culture of honor, and those who choose to follow that culture set themselves apart as having honor.

Valor – The Quality by Which We Show Honor

Valor (or valour) is another word that has largely fallen into antiquity. Today, the most direct translation would be the quality of courage. Courage is defined as the ability to confront fear, pain, danger, uncertainty, or intimidation. (Some might say courage is the ability to face goliaths). Aristotle discussed courage broadly in “Nicomachean Ethics”, where he detailed its vice of shortage as cowardice and its vice of excess as recklessness. In other words, courage is the middle ground between cowardice and recklessness. Christian L J Silver defined the quality of having courage as to “live life not without fear, but with gallantry against it.” Courage is listed among Thomas Aquinas’s Four Cardinal Virtues under the moniker of “Fortitude.” In The Tao Te Ching, a Chinese classic text loosely translated to the Book of the Way of Virtue, courage is written as made up of four Chinese characters: love, causes, ability, and brave. In other words, courage is derived from love, ability, and bravery, but it also has an action component- it causes action through love, ability, and bravery. If honor is the code that binds us to not do wrong, courage is the quality that inspires us to do good.

Humility – The Foundation on Which We Build

The term humility is derived from the term “humus”, or earth. It comes from the Latin “humilitas”, a noun related to the adjective “humilis”, which may be translated as “humble”, but also as “grounded”, “from the earth”, or “low”.

In Buddhism, humility is a goal that is defined by a freedom from suffering, vexations, and all illusions of self-deception. It is referred to as “Shunyata”: the ultimate emptiness and non-self.

Christian texts view humility as annexed to the Cardinal Virtue of Temperance. St. Bernard defines humility as “A virtue by which a man knowing himself as he truly is, abases himself. Jesus Christ is the ultimate definition of Humility.”

In the words of James, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)
Luke 14:11 states that “All those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Jim Collins refers to Level 5 leaders as possessing humility and fierce resolve. The research surrounding humility suggests that it is multidimensional and includes self-understanding and awareness, openness, and perspective taking.  Humility is a quality that can enhance leadership effectiveness.

Without humility, valor quickly becomes self-aggrandizement, and the code of honor is quickly forgotten as we begin to focus on ourselves and what makes us look good to others. Humility keeps us in check and acts as guard rails on the path of honor and valor. Because humility is necessary to the carrying out of living with honor and valor, it has to be the foundation upon which we build.


This post written by Jared.


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This entry was posted on September 4, 2012 by .


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