Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Rivalry and honor

I hadn't thought much about the subject of honor before finding the book "Honor: A History" by James Bowman.  Reading some of it brought to mind comments in "Fighting for Life" by Walter Ong, a Jesuit scholar.  One of those sources made clear that some honor systems are very much related to class.  It is a deadly insult to be challenged to a duel by someone who doesn't have the credentials for doing so.  If I challenge you without having the proper rank, I can expect not an answer or a visit by your second, but an ambush in the night by your friends or henchman or gang or soldiers.  That would be the expected fate for someone so uppity.  

Among boys in many environments, a natural rivalry often develops.  An all-male residential school, a Scout troop, a team of athletes will be a place where one boy assesses the competition, often without even planning to do so.  The "houses" at Harry Potter's Hogwarts school are a typical arrangement of teams and more or less official rival groups.  Rivalry for honor, prestige, rank and, of course, admiration by girls is an important subject of thought and effort.  This sort of competition seems similar to that between young males of many mammalian species.  Apes, bears, bison, deer are all likely to have arrangements that draw males into competition with each other.

Among humans, it can seem as though only males fight, plot and compete.  But in the age of equality or before it, girls and women are also fully capable of very serious competition, all the while smiling their lovely smiles and being their (required, expected) lady-like, genteel selves. I imagine girl and women athletes can try as hard to out-do each other as males.  

In training for getting a teaching license for elementary school, I was in classes where all the other students were women.  Later, I taught courses of a similar nature to similar students.  I was quite surprised to find that the women seemed to focus on how they could best be liked by their students.  As a teacher and a father, I had very little thought of being liked or loved.  I pictured success for myself as a result of excellent students, knowledgeable and confident.  Quite a bit later, more complete laws on sexual harassment were put in place.  I was again quite surprised to find that one aspect of such laws was what is referred to as the workplace environment.  I read of women getting lawyers and going to court because they felt strong negative tension in the workplace.  I read accounts of women being upset and anxious day after day because they thought that one or more persons, often male, didn't like them, steadily disliked them.  

At the same time, I knew that many men stay motivated in business or sports by the existence of those other bastards that simply must be defeated.  Each day, such men get out of bed looking forward to the possibility of putting one over on the other team, the other firm, the other somebody.  "Oh, Lord, deliver me some semi-competent enemies."

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