So I seem to carry around some antiquated or inflated sense of honor. After all, conventional wisdom says–“Why do you care what they think?” In other words, if someone speaks poorly of you, perhaps even calls you names, if you don’t respect them, why does it matter?

I’ll tell you why it matters, and it’s not because you are oversensitive. It’s not because unlike most people, you just can’t get over it. It’s because honor is another name for the self.

There are countless theories of the self out there. William James divides the self into four parts, and one of the components he gives the most time to in Principles of Psychology is the social self, “the recognition which he gets from his mates.” Honor is a name for one of many social selves we exhibit, and often these social selves come into conflict with one another. For example, if I were a chaplain in the US Military, I might have conflicting obligations to a female cadet who might come to me seeking an abortion. On the one hand, I might believe that my job as a military officer is to meet her need, while on the other, my religious beliefs might make helping her arrange to get an abortion an impossibility. In this case, I have to decide how to resolve a conflict between these social selves. The social self for James is not superficial, but one aspect of the self as significant as the other three (the material, the spiritual, and the pure ego). He adds, “the most peculiar social self which one is apt to have is in the mind of the person one is in love with.” Again, selves are foisted upon us all the time from the outside and are part of who we are. Sometimes we agree to them, sometimes we are puzzled by them (like the exaltation of the self a beloved might practice), but isn’t it reasonable that because the social self is the self, we might experience dishonor as a fundamental attack on the self?

Similarly, Edith Stein asserts in her work on empathy, that while empathy is like sensation in that we move between first and third-person points of view, empathy is informed by the other. I become aware of myself as others are aware of me. While this involves phenomenological notions of the relationship between self and body that are getting pretty far-afield for this post, my point is–if how other people perceive me is not just something superficially foisted upon me by others whose perception (whose very proximity) I may not condone, the fact remains that my sense of self is always already dependent upon others. And while I cannot control what others say, and I might try to screen out assertions about identity or character that are clearly inaccurate or which the name-caller doesn’t believe herself, in terms of consciousness, the way in which others are aware of me, has to be taken seriously as a point of orientation for the formation of my self. Not that I recognize the judgment they make–which I perceive as malicious and distorted– as a way of seeing the self I have to entertain, but rather on another level, I always already engage the other. I cannot just screen out or dismiss an unwanted other; the damage is done. I see myself as subject and object simultaneously; I see you digging away at the self that I recognize as the object of your disrespect. . .

I also wonder though, if introversion doesn’t play a role here. Research shows that introverts are often also “high-reactives,” meaning we are biologically wired to be overstimulated more easily by our environment than extroverts. But we live in a world of extroverts, and not because there are more extroverts than introverts, but especially in America, because introversion is lauded, equated with a get-up-and-go American enthusiasm. (I’m currently reading a book by Susan Cain called Quiet.) If introverts are more empathetic as a rule, as her book suggests, in part because one of their gifts is attention to detail, than an encounter with another who calls your self dishonorable names might seem more egregious than it would to an extrovert, who presumably switches social selves more easily.

I am combining James, Stein, and Cain here in some pretty lose ways. Maybe I am, at the end of the day, trying to justify an overly-sensitive nature when I should just get over it (I’m hoping Cain will say this idea of being oversensitive is again a product of living in a society that holds introverts to the standards of extroverts and not an objective standard), but I really don’t think so. I can be overly sensitive about how others seem to have no regard for the textiles in my environment. Another rug, another item of clothing, ruined. Okay. But there is something about honor that is so woven into the fabric of the self, not because I confuse someone else’s opinion of me as one I must adopt, but because the self is constituted by or through interactions with others and a violent disturbance in this process, which is how I experience formalized name calling that questions my integrity, has a ripple effect I have tried unsuccessfully to ignore. My honor is my self. You have attacked my self. I have to form myself by interaction with you (others), whether I like it or not. That makes your targeted dishonor egregious. I can’t just let it go.

Believe me, I have tried. I have also learned–and this is very important–that only you can defend your honor. Not because others might not want to, but because at the end of the day, if honor is another name for a facet of the self, then only I can right that wrong, address that false naming. Phenomenologically, that’s how it has to be. Consciousness experiences what is given to it. No one else can enter that dynamic. I have to move between the first and third person experience of myself, informed by the other.

So, that means that wanting someone else to do this for you, to defend your honor, just doesn’t work on many levels. Another cannot even really understand your dishonor; it is your own-most experience. I was confusing this hurt of not being defended with the hurt of being dishonored. I can let the former go. In fact, I probably owe the apology. That’s not a martyred voice talking. Forgiveness isn’t even the right word. I wanted to be defended, when that was an impossibility in the first place. Ironically, realizing this makes the need to defend myself somehow seem less pressing. I will have to think on that. But the feeling that being libeled is a form of dishonor that threatens the self is one I can come to terms with through phenomenological notions. And that’s better than feeling like others think you are hysterical and that only a duel will do.


Tagged with:


  1. philospycho says:

    This is where I think that existentialists are right. We need others to tell us something about ourselves. But, as you have demonstrated, when they are wrong or we experience cognitive dissonance because what we are told and what we think about ourselves are not in sync, then it causes us psychic pain.

    I recently was accused (though not docked in grade points) of something akin to plagiarism, though it wasn’t explicitly said. I think I said something about women trying to become like men through violence, thereby feeling as if they were achieving equal status. The exact comment was, “A FOOT NOTE WOULD NOT BE TAKEN AMISS ABOUT NOW.  YOU ARE REFERRING TO FEMINIST/POSTMODERNIST THEORY, BUT WHOSE THEORY IS IT?” I was slightly flattered but mostly insulted and couldn’t resist setting the record straight. So, I emailed the professor and let him know that they were my own original thoughts, and had I known there was someone to quote, I certainly would have! I received no response, which ate me up for a while, since I wanted his affirmation that he didn’t think less of me. I knew that my grade wasn’t at stake-but in my mind, my honor was. In time, I was able to let it go, secure in the knowledge that I hadn’t stolen someone else’s ideas.
    “Hell is other people” and platitudes like “Just don’t care what they think” are too simplistic, yet have some element of truth in them if we are to have a secure sense of self (I think).

    • Wanda says:

      The sentiment is clearly yours on the one hand but also so pervasive in postmodern feminist thought, who would you quote? At that point, it becomes something like common knowledge. It sounds a bit like you saying that life has no meaning but that we must persevere anyway and then have someone demand that you quote an existentialist.

      Sometimes I think people with a highly-defined and secure sense of self also have the highest sense of honor.

  2. I almost never drop responses, but i did some searching and wound up here Honor | The Agnostic Paramour.
    And I actually do have 2 questions for you if it’s allright. Could it be just me or does it look like some of these remarks look like written by brain dead individuals? 😛 And, if you are writing at additional online sites, I’d like to keep up
    with anything fresh you have to post. Could you make a list of the complete urls of your communal pages like your Facebook page, twitter feed, or linkedin profile?

    • Wanda says:

      Hi and thanks for your response. I’m not linked to any other pages or media at this point. This is it. :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *