In Medieval times, within its rules of courtly and chivalric behaviour, honour was paramount and a knight would throw to the ground his gauntlet (a metal glove from his armour), to lay down a challenge to a rival, an enemy or someone who had affronted him.
This was a grave challenge as it would be a trial by combat between the two parties. To accept the challenge the opponent would pick up the gauntlet from his feet and a duel would be instigated to satisfy the honour. A Kings Champion, a knight whose duty was to protect the king, would throw down the gauntlet if the King’s honour had been besmirched. This practice continued for many a year and as knights in armour disappeared, gauntlets changed into gloves, but the honour and the duel remained. Duels eventually faded away in the late 19th and early 20th century, though two phrases passed into common parlance; ‘throwing down the gauntlet’ meaning to issue a challenge and ‘picking up the gauntlet’ meaning the accepting of a challenge.
Everyday the gauntlet is thrown at our feet in the form of life challenges; either self imposed challenges such as losing weight, running a race, or learning to play the guitar, or they could be asked of us by others, such as work targets, giving time, making introductions and the like. Unlike the knights of old, our life may not be at stake, but certainly our honour is, even if we don’t realise it.
Honour is a word that is frequently misunderstood. It means personal integrity, esteem, high regard or great respect, not only with reference to how others perceive us, but also how we perceive ourselves. We all have a level of honour, even if it is just respect for ourselves. If we have picked up that gauntlet, in whatever form it appears, then it is our own honour for which we are playing. We have to do the very best to deliver that goal for our own honour, if nothing else.
Let me explain that a little further. Let us start with a simple example; you agree to make an introduction to someone, but you it slips off your to do list and then it fades from memory. A little piece of your honour chips away, you might not notice it at once, but it will. Your friend may not care that you didn’t make the introduction and it may happen eventually, but internally you will know. Or, in another instance, you commit to get fit, but you stop because it is too hard. You will know that your own self-respect is chipped away. Even if you have convinced yourself that the reason was justified, your honour will know.
But if that is true, then the reverse is true and you can build honour and thus self-esteem, integrity and the respect of others. If you have honour, then others will see it, even if it is not visible as the shirt on your back or the polish on your shoes. It is visible by your actions, your ability to be that King’s Champion and people will recognise that you will uphold your honour. So, if you start small and commit a little act, one at a time, then your honour will increase, glove by glove, self-induced duel by self-induced duel. You will be quickly on the path to being a person of honour and more ready to pick up the next gauntlet.
Last week, I issued a challenge, which was to make 2015 about ‘Being a Gentleman’, which is about thinking, acting and encouraging others to be a Gentleman. It is about building that honour amongst not only the individuals who will take up the gauntlet and run with it, but the wider society who sees what both being a Gentleman is and by the honour of those who stand on the field of combat fighting to make the world that little bit better.
Honourably and challengingly yours,