Honor in Social Media
When most people think of honor, they think back to the Medieval Ages. Knights and duchesses and the concept of chivalry dance in their heads. In a sense, they’re right to do so. Honor played a big role in that time, and it often turned into violent acts. So why would I suggest we need to bring it back?
The Oxford dictionary defines honor as “high respect; great esteem; or adherence to what is right or to a conventional standard of conduct.” Honor is also seen as the idea of a bond between an individual and a society.
Honor has been a charged topic in the last year for students at Brigham Young University. On March 23, 2019, I participated in a BYU hosted color run titled “Honor Never Fades.” Shortly after this run, a campaign against BYU’s Honor Code (aka their code of conduct) erupted on campus, dividing the students and bringing out untold stories of unfair verdicts from the honor code office.
When the fight turned to social media, groups and opinions became more polarized, and the once well-mannered protest turned into students tearing BYU, and even each other, apart. The original aims of the protesters were met, but offshoots became rather dishonorable.
The fight over how the Honor Code was executed at BYU was motivated by honor. They felt the needs that were beyond their own (the majority of students had not had a personal interaction with the honor code office) and banded together for others’ rights.
The individual was bonded to their society and felt that they had responsibilities to help those around them. It wasn’t until individuals turned to social media that the honor began to fade, and other motives emerged.
While easy to demonstrate in a smaller, collective group like a university, the United States of America is a large, individualistic society. It is all about getting ahead, climbing up the ladder, and being in control of your own destiny. Everyone has their own idea of what this means. There is very little in terms of community unless you are involved in a public community, a local church, or other clubs and causes. But even in these communities, it seems that there is little sense of community.
With no community, there is no sense of honor binding us to one another, let alone to society as a whole. In his book, The Vanishing Neighbor: The Transformation of American Community, Marc Dunkelman of Brown University states:
“For the whole of America’s history, its core social building block, what I call the township, [evolved] from the colonial village to the frontier town to the urban tenements to the first ring suburb. Americans, even if they didn’t like their neighbors, understood them.”
As honor continues to fade into the past, more problems with civility and intolerance arise. The idea of township is now replaced with social media- empowering us to interact with more people, but also to form digital townships filled with like-minded individuals.
This creates a wind tunnel where we feed off each other. Our opinions become more polarized, and our tolerance for anyone that thinks differently than we do decreases. Now we argue differently. We are unwilling to listen to “the other side,” namely anyone that is not in our group of affiliates. Later in his book, Dunkelman touches on this:
“There are a whole variety of reasons that people believe American politics is polarized at the moment. I think voters, because they haven’t interacted as much with people who are different, through those relationships, they’re less willing to [look for] compromise.”
He states that we need to find a way to return, in a sense, to the feelings of township- interacting with people of all kinds, not just those we agree with. Part of this needs to include increasing our sense of community.
Another sign of our increasingly dishonorable nation is our voting trends. According to npr.org, 4 in 10 eligible voters did not cast ballots in 2016. Here is yet another sign of our feelings toward community.
Many people today will say that their vote doesn’t matter, that their voice can’t be heard. In reality, many of these people really believe that “the others,” those that are not of the same mindset as them, are the majority, therefore it does not matter if they vote or not.
In the end, if we are honorable these feelings will not stop us from doing our part to help the community. Even if our vote truly didn’t matter, we would do it anyways because it is what will help the community the most.
With this increased loneliness, there is also a decrease in the felt need to contribute to the community. Because of this, when Americans actually end up interacting with each other, there is an increasing lack of tolerance for those that are different than us. In other words, there is no honor.
In an article published March 2018 in National Review magazine, Michael Hendrix contemplates this predicament:
“America is increasingly a lonely nation. The proportion of American adults who say they are lonely has increased from 20 percent to 40 percent since the 1980s. Roughly 43 million adults over the age of 45 are estimated to suffer from chronic loneliness.” — Hendrix, “Lonely America”
Social media is not really social. It is isolating individuals, disconnecting them from their community and throwing them into an online resemblance that will never give them the same sense of belonging or satisfaction.
The return to a community of tolerance, acceptance, and civility will not happen overnight. Many people, admittedly in the throes of the lack of honor, will think that this problem is too big for them to make a noticeable difference.
The human race longs for a sense of belonging in a community. Contrary to our current individualistic way of life, we all need each other- especially those that see the world differently than you do. Be honorable in your interactions, and you will eventually see improvements in your community.