Some people have commented that the word “honour” appears somewhat abstract and could therefore mean different things to different people. So they asked why we do not use a simpler word like “trust” or “respect”, which will be easier to understand and has less ambiguity. While we agree this would have been simpler, it would have lost a very important point about “honour”.
Let us explain it this way. “Honour” is something we offer someone, whereas “trust” or “respect” is our reaction to someone. Thus if someone behaves in a way which makes us believe in him or her, we respond with “trust” and “respect”. But “honour” is what we offer on our own initiative, simply because we believe we should honour our word or we should that person.
To “honour our word” is not something forced upon us, but is what we believe is the way we should behave. And if we “honour our word”, it is likely that the people we deal with will end up trusting and respecting us.
Similarly, to “honour each other” is something we decide to do because we believe the right thing to do is to respect each other, to be willing to listen to each other’s views and seek to understand one another. The example probably closest for all of us is to honour our parents. It may be that our relations with our parents may not be the best, for whatever reason from the past. But we are moved to honour our parents because they are our parents. And we express honour to them by loving them, showing we care for them, going out of the way to make them happy, celebrating their birthdays and wedding anniversaries, and so on.
To understand the distinction between “honour” and “trust” or “respect”, let us think about the difference between “liking” and “loving”.
Often people use the word “love” as though it has the same meaning as “like”. But in fact they are very different. When we “like” something or someone, it is because there is something about the thing or person which pleases us. So when we say we “like” something or someone, in fact the focus is on ourselves. But if we love someone, we will always be thinking of doing things that will please them or make them happy.
Unlike “liking” where the focus is on ourselves, the focus of “loving” is on others. This is the way things should be between husbands and wives, and parents and their children. And from the family, we can extend “loving” to others we interact with. Thus when we seek to make fun of others, we would be failing to offer “honour”, while if we seek to help others improve and succeed, it would be a positive expression of “honour”.
If we can appreciate the difference between “loving” and “liking”, we will also be able to appreciate that “honouring” is what we extend to others on our own initiative, whereas “trust” or “respect” is our reaction to the way others behave. In the first instance, the focus is on others, while in the second instance, the focus is on ourselves.
“Honour” is addressed in its two senses of:
- Being a people who “honour our word”
- Being a people who “honour each other”
As a people whose word is our honour, we keep our promises, we are reliable and we can be trusted. As to honouring each other as human beings and as citizens of the land, we are free to express our view but need, at the same time, to be willing to listen to each other’s views. And we also need to be able to have constructive discussions to end up with constructive outcomes that are good for succeeding generations of Singaporeans.
Such an environment of trust between people is essential for Singapore’s success and cohesion in the coming years. Provided everyone is seeking the well-being of the nation in advocating their points of view, there must be a strong vein of honour and mutual respect between individuals even when there may be sharp differences in views over particular issues.
“Trust” is the lifeblood that determines the quality of relationships that undergird every community and society, and every business and enterprise. And “honour” is the foundation of trust.