Friday, February 06, 2015

Why Honor The Honorable?

I am one fortunate son and that is said without one scintilla of irony wrapped in the clause.

My character, for what it is, was formed at a time in our history when honor was bestowed upon very exceptional persons.  They were exceptional for the virtues evident in their thoughts, words and especially deeds.  At grammar school sports banquets everyone who played on a team got huge plateful of spaghetti cooked by the Dads, ice cream Dixie cups with wooden spoons donated by Hamilton Dairy and the first kind words from coaches who challenged us to 'put out' in everything we did and reminded that no one loves a 'dogger.'  I don't recall trophies, ribbons, or certificates dispensed universal, but some tokens went to exceptional players.

We were not all champions and that was good, because only the tough guys who won The Soutrhtown Economist Big Bell ( usually St. Cajetan's) held that honorific.  In the late 1960's, St. Cajetan's dominated our conference in football and St. Sabina's in basketball. Those were exceptional teams of athletes.I was and remain an exceptionally bad athlete with all of the grace of a loose bowling ball in fast-moving panel truck carrying a glass menagerie.  Yet, I lack not for confidence, pep and get up and go.

Lessons learned early in theory and practice taught me some understanding of honor.  If one begrudges the exceptional any and all recognition, one is a bitter ass.

 Take a look at the 2014 Gallup lists of moost admired persons

There are some exceptional people, but there are more celebreties in place than exceptional, it seems to me.
Joel Osteen? That's some list

I do not like lists.  Lists are very New York City hoity-toity and were the whipping dogs of one of the all-time great modern ironists, Hessville of Hammond, Indiana's Jean Shepherd. This Midwestern born and bred writer and broadcaster was amazed by New York's addiction to list making and Made The List idolaters.

Lists seem to diminish the exceptional for sake of the appoiuted.  I would rather make a team, than be added on to it to make me feel good. The exceptional earn, the celebrated are granted.  The only real list that makers, it seems to me, is the roll-call of Medal of Honor recipients.  Terry Barrett wrote in The Search for the Forgotten Thirty Four ( a book no young man should miss reading) that " Without question the Medal of Honor recipients had a full measure of spirit, evident in their actions long before they entered combat. Childhood friends, school companions, and teammates recalled it. Fellow recruits recognized it early in training. And commanders counted upon it when they sent these men into harm’s way. This is the quality that the recipients breathed into the comrades who witnessed their heroic bravery. Only from spirit can come inspiration."

I once gave a student of mine a higher grade in a high school sophomore English survey course, not because of the essay on Ambrose Bierce's short story " The Sniper," but for the exceptional thing he brought to his essay. It was a handwritten Civil War journal from his great grand uncle who served in the Illinois 64th Regiment. They were snipers - sharpshooters. Exceptional.

That student went on to live an exceptional life. Exceptionally happy.  He became a machinist for a great Illinois Tool Maker.

We must teach our young people the difference between being an exceptional person and a celebrated person.  Today, young people love Seth Rogan, because they have forgotten Jack Black; though both have limited arsenals of wit and talent, both were wildly celebrated.

Letsbegin with honoring Medal of Honor Recipients - early and often. Terry Barret explains early in his book -
The men described in the following chapters lived and died in circumstances in which few people in the general population will ever find themselves. The majority of people will never know if they possess this brand of bravery, because heroic bravery is seldom called for in everyday events. 
Realistically, not all people are capable of heroic bravery. Yet, many more than are aware, “average” and “ordinary” individuals, do have the potential to experience bravery. Reading about bravery and learning about heroes might help us discover this quality within ourselves and practice it deliberately. We might find ourselves less troubled by fear.
Medal of Honor recipients provide us examples. By encouraging children and adults to take the nine actions described of these men and fostering the development of the traits they exemplify, people would accomplish much in life with greater confidence and more certain esteem for themselves.
Our culture would also discover itself to be less anxious, fearful, or cowered by the intimidations of terror. (emphasis my own)
Our culture might also wake up to the fact that police officers, firemen and most first responders are not Suge Knight.

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