Sunday, April 29, 2012

Lessons in Honor from Alexander Hamilton and Thornton W. Burgess

hon·or [on-er]: honesty, fairness, or integrity in one's beliefs and actions.

Alexander_Hamilton_portrait_by_Ezra_Ames-croppedIs it possible for people on different sides of an issue to both have honor or share integrity in their beliefs? The answer is yes! You or I may not agree with the beliefs of people who stand on the other side of an issue but their belief may nonetheless be sincere.

Alexander Hamilton offer’s a great dissertation on this principle in a single paragraph (Federalist #1):

“So numerous indeed and so powerful are the causes which serve to give a false bias to the judgment, that we, upon many occasions, see wise and good men on the wrong as well as on the right side of questions of the first magnitude to society. This circumstance, if duly attended to, would furnish a lesson of moderation to those who are ever so much persuaded of their being in the right in any controversy. And a further reason for caution, in this respect, might be drawn from the reflection that we are not always sure that those who advocate the truth are influenced by purer principles than their antagonists. Ambition, avarice, personal animosity, party opposition, and many other motives not more laudable than these, are apt to operate as well upon those who support as those who oppose the right side of a question. Were there not even these inducements to moderation, nothing could be more ill-judged than that intolerant spirit which has, at all times, characterized political parties. For in politics, as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution.

Honor has less to do with the positions we hold and the actions taken to support them than our motives.

The story below, found in Mother West Wind’s “Where” Stories (refer to my post “Books by Thornton W. Burgess” for a list of his books and links to online versions of them), is an interesting tale of how Mr. Bob-Cat lost his honor. It didn’t happen overnight and there were multiple points along the way where Mr. Bob-Cat could have turned around. Selfishness and avarice played significant roles. Even at the very end he could have apologized and tried to make amends (e.g. guard the nest while the parents are away). A fun exercise for families could be to watch for these points and discuss what Mr. Bob-Cat could do to return to the path of honor.

Where Old Mr. Bob-Cat Left His Honor

CoverOf all those who are forever trying to catch Peter Rabbit, he fears none more than Yowler the Bob-cat. And from that fear has grown hate. You will find it true all through life that hate often springs from great fear. Peter isn’t much given to hate, but he does hate Yowler the Bob-cat. It is partly because of his fear of Yowler, but it is still more because he feels that Yowler is not fair in his hunting. He has no honor. There are many others whom Peter fears,—Reddy Fox, Old Man Coyote, Hooty the Owl,—and with very good reason. But Peter considers that these hunt him fairly. He knows when and where to be on the watch for them.

But with Yowler it is altogether different. Yowler hides beside one of Peter’s favorite little paths, and there he waits patiently for unsuspecting Peter to come along. He waits and watches much as Black Pussy, who is a cousin of Yowler, waits and watches at a mousehole. Peter feels that it doesn’t give him a chance, and everybody is entitled to at least a chance to live.

“I hate him! hate him! hate him!” exclaimed Peter fiercely, as he crawled under the very middle of a great pile of brush after the narrowest of narrow escapes. He had been hopping along one of his favorite little paths without a thought of danger. Presently he came to a little branch path. There he hesitated. He had intended to keep on along the main path, but suddenly he had a feeling that it would be better to take the branch path. He knew no reason why he shouldn’t keep on as he had planned. It was just a feeling that it would be better to take the other path, a feeling without any real reason. So he hesitated and finally turned down the little branch path. As he did so he caught a glimpse of a brown form moving stealthily from behind a log farther up the main little path. It was moving swiftly in the direction of the little branch path. That glimpse was enough for Peter. That stealthy form could be but one person—Yowler the Bob-cat. He turned and darted back the way he had come and then off to one side to the great pile of brush under which he had crawled.

“Who is it you hate?” asked a voice.

For just a second Peter was startled, then he recognized the voice of Mrs. Grouse, one of his very best friends. “Yowler the Bob-cat,” said he as fiercely as before.

“I don’t love him myself,” replied Mrs. Grouse. “I suspected that he was somewhere about, and that is why I am here. Did you see him?”

“Yes,” said Peter, “I saw him. He was hiding beside my favorite little path, and it is a wonder I didn’t hop straight into his jaws. That fellow doesn’t hunt fairly. He doesn’t give us a chance. He hasn’t any honor.”

“Honor!” exclaimed Mrs. Grouse. “Honor! Of course he hasn’t any honor. There hasn’t been any honor in Yowler’s family since old Mr. Bob-cat, the first of all the Bob-cats, left his honor in Turkey Wood, way back in the days when the world was young, and failed to get it again. Honor! Of course Yowler hasn’t any. What could you expect?”

At once Peter was all ears. “I’ve never heard about that,” said he. “Tell me about it, Mrs. Grouse. We’ve got to stay right where we are for a long time to make sure that Yowler has given us up and gone away, so you will have plenty of time to tell me the story. Where was Turkey Wood, and how did old Mr. Bob-cat happen to leave his honor there?”

“He didn’t happen to; he did it deliberately,” replied Mrs. Grouse. “You see, it was like this: In the beginning of things, when Old Mother Nature made the first little people and the first big people of the Green Forest and the Green Meadows, she was too busy to watch over them all the time, so for a while she put them on their honor not to harm one another or interfere with one another in any way, for she wanted them to live in peace and happiness and raise families to people the Great World.

“Now it chanced that Mr. and Mrs. Gobbler, the first of the Turkey family, chose a certain little grove of trees in which to make their home, and it became known as Turkey Wood. There, in course of time, Mrs. Turkey made her nest on the ground, well hidden among some bushes, and in it laid twelve big eggs. It was the day on which she laid the twelfth big egg that old Mr. Bob-cat, who, of course, wasn’t old then, took it into his head to prowl about in Turkey Wood. Already Mr. Bob-cat had begun to form a sneaky habit of stealth. He was very fond of watching his neighbors to find out what they were about, and it was this fondness of minding the business of other people instead of his own that was making him sneaky and stealthy, for of course he didn’t want anyone to know what he was doing.

“It happened that as he stole into Turkey Wood, Mrs. Gobbler left her nest to get a bite to eat. Mr. Bob-cat saw her, but she didn’t see him. He crouched flat until she was out of sight.

“‘She seemed mighty careful about how she slipped out of those bushes,’ thought Mr. Bob-cat. ‘She acted as if she didn’t want to be seen. I wonder why. I wonder if she has a secret hidden in those bushes. I suppose the way to find out is to look.’

“First making sure that no one saw him, Mr. Bob-cat crept in his sneaky way into the bushes, and it didn’t take him long to find that nest with the twelve big eggs. He didn’t know what they were, for they were the first eggs he had ever seen. He stared at them and wondered if they were good to eat. He glanced this way and that way to be sure that no one was watching him.

“‘Don’t touch them,’ warned something inside of him. ‘These belong to Mrs. Gobbler, and Old Mother Nature has put you on your honor not to interfere with others or their affairs.’

“‘It won’t do any harm just to touch them and see what they are like,’ said another little tempting voice inside of him.

“‘Remember your honor,’ warned the first little voice.

“‘Bother my honor! I’m not going to do any harm,’ muttered Mr. Bob-cat, and picked up one of the eggs in his mouth. He tried it with his teeth to see if it was hard, and of course he put his teeth right through the shell. He started to put it back in a hurry, but just then he noticed a good taste in his mouth. The inside of that egg was good to eat, very good indeed!

“‘One won’t be missed,’ thought Mr. Bob-cat, and then, fearing that Mrs. Gobbler would return, he bounded away, taking the egg with him.

“When Mrs. Gobbler returned, she did miss that egg. She looked all about for it, but there was nothing to show what had become of it. With a troubled mind she began to sit on her eggs. She was so worried that she didn’t leave them until she simply had to get something to eat.

“Meanwhile Mr. Bob-cat had eaten that egg, and it had tasted so good that he could think of nothing but how he could get another. So at the first opportunity he sneaked back to Turkey Wood, and without making a sound crept in among the bushes until he could see Mrs. Gobbler sitting on her eggs. There he lay and watched and watched until Mrs. Gobbler left to get something to eat. No sooner was she out of sight than Mr. Bob-cat stole to the nest.

“‘Remember your honor,’ warned the little voice inside.

“‘Bother honor. I’d rather have an egg,’ muttered Mr. Bob-cat, and pulled one out of the nest. He bit a hole in one end and sucked out the contents. It was so good he took another. This led to a third, and finally Mr. Bob-cat had sucked every one of those eggs. Then silently he sneaked away—away from Turkey Wood to a distant part of the Green Forest. Behind him in Turkey Wood he left a nestful of empty shells and his honor.

“‘Nobody knows who did it, and nobody ever will find out,’ thought Mr. Bob-cat, but all the time he knew that he had left his honor behind, and this made him more sneaky than ever. He never would meet any one face to face. You know that is something that one who has lost his honor never can do. It wasn’t long before all his neighbors knew that he was without honor, and so would have nothing to do with him. They shunned him. He grew to be more and more of a sneak. And all the time he believed that no one knew what he had done or where he had left his honor.

“But Old Mother Nature knew. Of course Mrs. Gobbler told her what had happened to her eggs. Old Mother Nature told her to make a new nest and hide it more carefully than before, which Mrs. Gobbler did and hatched out ten fine young Gobblers. Meanwhile Old Mother Nature went about her business, but all the time she was watching to see who would fail to look her straight in the face. The first time she met Mr. Bob-cat he tried to slip past unseen. When Old Mother Nature stepped in front of him, he couldn’t look her in the face, try as he would.

“‘Ah-ha!’ said she. ‘You are the one who left his honor in Turkey Wood. From this time forth you shall be an outcast, friendless and alone, hated by everyone.’

“And so it was, and has been ever since. And so it is with Yowler today. You said truly, Peter, that he hasn’t any honor. Isn’t it dreadful?”

And Peter agreed that it is.

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