Monday, January 28, 2013



From the time we’re old enough to read a children’s book, each boy and girl is taught about great historical figures who overcame unprecedented opposition to advance a mission or succeed in a chosen pursuit. Even though we live in a culture that rewards greed and often punishes selflessness, the prominent individuals we’re taught to admire from an early age are not CEOs or advertising executives. Instead, the better angels of our families and teachers wrap our minds in the tapestry of stories about religious figures, war heroes, and courageous political leaders. There’s one thing this group possesses that the former does not.

Make no mistake about it. Throughout the civilized world, each person grows up with a keen understanding of humanity’s secular religion: the worthy garners esteem among their contemporaries, by performing one or more acts of bravery to ensure a noted place in history.
In fiction, we use this notion of honor to build heroic characters that the masses can identify with and root for throughout a written story, live theatre, or motion picture. Mythology master, Joseph Campbell, discusses this kind of human psychology in his book, The Hero’s Journey. His thesis is that mankind throughout human history has bestowed honor and courage onto legendary figures in myth and religious doctrine. The point being, these myths are used to teach us (or inspire an instinctual belief) in what makes a moral and honorable person.

Hell, even in modern storytelling, the antihero is a dishonored person or coward that’s forced to strive for an honorable outcome in a story’s plot. Rarely, if ever, do we see a complete aversion to the myths of honor that mankind has perpetuated for millennia.

In modern life, we see the importance of honor play out most commonly in the biographies of our political leaders. They are the one group of people who have the financial resources and power to advance heroic story lines that play into the mythological needs of a population. It doesn’t matter how true or false their stories are. It’s the perception of honor that matters.

We as a society also place a value of honor onto our soldiers, sailors, firefighters, nurses, and police officers. We find it comforting that these people are looked upon as heroic figures in our social narrative. These people forego financial rewards and risk their lives on a regular basis to earn the respect that comes with the elevated distinction of being an honorable professional. Sure, there’s an argument to be made about the human need for adventure, but that need is often fulfilled by self-serving acts of skydiving or bungee jumping.

Honor is about the virtue of sacrificing one’s personal desires or needs for the good of others.
That’s why Captain James Kirk in Star Trek is a less honorable character than Commander William Adama in the modern version of Battlestar Galactica. Both lead thrilling lives and take risks to accomplish their goals. Both carry the responsibility of thousands of lives on their ships. Both fight technologically advanced enemies on a regular basis. But Kirk does it because he believes he’s the only one that can. Adama simply rises to meet the challenges presented. Kirk fights because he believes it’s his life’s work and therefore, he’s sacrificing little. Adama accepted retirement until the Cylons obliterated his civilization.

Think about it this way. Kirk freely admits that he “cheats death” and places his trust into the hands of Spock and McCoy to handle the challenges of each storyline. On the other hand, Adama tells his crew they have to “roll the hard six,” an indirect statement that they’re sacrificing much to accomplish a goal. He tells Starbuck to “Grab your gun and bring in the cat,” to reel her in from Kirk-like theatrics so he can absorb the brunt of honorable sacrifice.

Lastly, Kirk never fully accepts the Klingons as true equals. They are always adversaries to never be trusted. Adama wrestles with the moral definitions of what it is to be Human vs. Cylon and grows into a better man from learning. He literally sacrifices part of his own humanity to accept others.
To test our understanding of honor, let’s choose who is the more honorable figure: Obi Wan Kenobi or Han Solo?

Most would immediately say Obi-Wan, because he’s a noble Jedi that dedicated his life to the Force while Han is considered scandalous. Obi-Wan worked all his life to ensure peace and advancement of his faith in the universe...and he sacrificed his own life for Luke Skywalker.

Yes, Obi-Wan is an honorable character and his place in George Lucas’ story is paramount. But Obi-Wan didn’t break the mold of his conditioning. He didn’t reach beyond his own training or mindset to achieve his goals. He played a noble cog in the machine of morality.

Han Solo is actually the more honorable character. He’s the man that sacrificed everything to join the good guys. His character went through a metamorphosis from unethical smuggler to ardent supporter of a just cause. By mythological definition, Han Solo is the most honorable character in the Star Wars story...and that is specifically why girls like him best. Everyone thinks it’s because he’s the edgiest and falls in love with Leia. In psychological truth, it’s because he’s the only one that gives up everything he knows to embrace what’s right and good.

When writing your next story, (fiction or nonfiction) keep the true definition of honor in mind. Every story contains an honorable character. By defining those attributes correctly, your hero or antihero will be more broadly understood and accepted by a larger readership. That understanding will secure a permanent place in the minds of your readers.

It’s not always easy, but sometimes you gotta roll the hard six. Now, go make it happen!

Good hunting.

BIO: Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Ron Gavalik is a seasoned freelance journalist and fiction author of the successful Grit City thriller series. As Publisher for Grit City Publications, he oversees the Emotobooks Revolution. Ron holds an M.A. in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University and a B.S. in Marketing Communications from Point Park University. When not writing, you can find him in the outdoors of Southwestern Pennsylvania on his trail bike, hiking, or fishing.

No comments:

Post a Comment