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Honor is the character virtue for the month of November. From the ancient Greeks to present day, a person’s honor is tied to the code by which he or she lives. Not only do honorable people respect their own dignity by acting with virtue, but by their actions, they also respect the dignity of others.

What is Honor?

Honor is living by the virtues, showing great respect for yourself, other people and the rules you live by. When you are honorable, you keep your word.

Where does the word come from?

Word etymology: Honor from the Latin “honorem” means “dignity, office, reputation.” From Old French “onar” it meant “dignity, distinction, position, victory, triumph.” In Middle English “honour” or “honor” could also mean “splendor, beauty, excellence.”

Honor in Action: Edith Cavell (1865-1915)

She was 30 years old before she started nursing school, but within 20 years Edith Cavell had won international recognition. If not for World War I she might only have been know as an excellent nurse and teacher. However, running a nursing school in German-occupied Belgium placed her in a special role that allowed her to care for her enemies as well as her countrymen. She was committed to saving the lives of all that came to her regardless of their nationality. Her respect for the humanity of all her patients made her a national hero to the British.

The oldest child of four, Cavell traveled and worked as a governess from 1886 -1895 until her father became sick and she returned home to Norfolk, England to nurse her seriously ill father. After her experience nursing him back to health, she applied to the Royal London Hospital to become a nurse at the age of 30. For the next nine years Cavell worked in various hospitals and as a traveling nurse where she she was recognized for her dedication to her patients.

In 1897 Cavell was invited to run a newly established nursing school; ‘L’École Belge d’Infirmières Diplômées’ in Brussels. Her program produced well-qualified nurses who were serving in multiple hospitals and schools.

Cavell was visiting her family in England when World War I broke out in August 1914. She quickly packed her bags and returned to her students. Her school became a Red Cross hospital that treated all wounded. When Brussels was captured by the Germans, Cavell refused the call to return home. Disregarding the criticism she received, she cared for  German and Austrian soldiers who were in need of medical help. She believed that she had an obligation to respect all life, regardless of whether they were the enemy.

As the British retreated, many wounded Englishmen were left behind enemy lines and the Germans posted warnings of harsh penalties for helping Allied troops. However, when two British soldiers came to her in need, Cavell’s conscience would not let her refuse them. She soon began working to secretly smuggle the Allied soldiers she cared for to neutral Holland. She hid almost 200 Allied soldiers as they waited to escape to freedom. From hiding them in apple barrels to disguising them as corpses during German inspections, Cavell carried out her role in secret to keep her fellow nurses safe.

After almost a year of assisting Allied soldiers’ escape, she  realized she was being watched by the Germans. She knew that she would soon be caught, but she refused to flee the country because there were still people who needed her help. As long as there were lives to save, she could not leave.

On August 5, 1915 she was arrested and sentenced to to death. Despite the pleas of diplomats from both allied and neutral countries, Cavell faced the firing squad on October 12. Her heroism inspired the Allied cause and the British army experienced a 50 percent spike in new recruits.

Today she continues to serve as a reminder of the importance of respecting others regardless of your differences and refusing to compromise your moral principles in the face of adversity.

Quotes From Edith Cavell

“Standing, as I do, in view of God and eternity, I realize that patriotism is not enough, I must have no hatred or bitterness to anyone.”

“I have told you that devotion will give you real happiness, and the thought that you have done, before God and yourselves, your whole duty and with a good heart will be your greatest support in the hard moments of life and in the face of death.”

“I can’t stop while there are lives to be saved.”

Discussion Questions

  • Why is honor  important? How is it connected to respect?
  • What does it mean to respect yourself?
  • How do the choices you make help you develop honor?
  • Can you have honor if you don’t have rules or morals that you live by?
  • How did Edith Cavell display honor? How did she respect herself by not compromising on her values and beliefs?
  • Does a person need to have the other virtues in order to have honor?
  • What might you have to sacrifice to retain your self-respect and honor?


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