Hey, Vsauce. Michael here.
But where is here and how much does it weigh? That’s the supposed to be me, huh?
Imitation is a form of flattery. An honor.
But what is the greatest honor possible? Let’s begin our journey by looking at
challenges and achievements worthy of honour.
First, the physical ones. Being the fastest person to run a marathon 26.2 miles is great but why stop there? The Iron Man triathlon involves swimming – 2.4 miles, racing on a bicycle 112 miles and then running an entire marathon. Record holder Craig Alexander did it all in 8 hours, 3 minutes and 56 seconds. Beyond that things begin to get mental. The self transcendence race held every
summer in New York is the longest certified foot race on the planet.
It’s not 26 miles long, it’s 3100. And instead of running thousands of miles
across the varied landscape of the US, competitors merely run around the same city block in Queens 5 649 times. You have 52 days to complete the
race and doing so can wear out as many as 12 pairs of shoes. The fastest time for completing the race
goes to Wolfgang Schwerk who finished in just 41 days, averaging 75 miles of running every day.
In the realm of entertainment there are very clear physical rewards, statuettes like the Emmy, the Grammy, the Oscar and the Tony. Winning at least one of each is called an EGOT. So far 11 humans have won all
four awards in competitive categories. Marvin Hamlisch and Richard Rodgers
also each won a Pulitzer Prize. Lynn Redgrave is the only person to have
ever been nominated for all four awards without winning a single one.
Some people have won surprising combinations of awards. Steve Tisch, as chairman and executive
vice president of the New York Giants and producer of films like Forrest Gump,
American History X and Snatch is the only person in history
to have won both a Super Bowl ring and an Oscar. And throughout all of human history only one person has won an Oscar and a Nobel Prize. George Bernard Shaw.
Those are neat facts but let’s define honour. There are two
guys we should go to. The first is Noah Webster whose American Dictionary is the reason Americans spell it honor. The second guy is Samuel
Johnson whose English Dictionary is the reason people across the Atlantic, where I usually am, spell it honour. Johnson differentiated two types
of honored that are relevant to the question in this video’s title.
The first is what he calls nobility of soul, magnanimity and the scorn of meanness. This is honour derived not from
achievement at something competitive but rather from perceived virtuous conduct and personal integrity.
But what counts as a virtue? One of my favorite attempts
to catalog human virtues was done by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman.
Frustrated by a persistent focus on mental illness, they devised a guide to mental wellness.
Their catalog contains 24 virtues and strengths shared across nearly every human culture.
They attached historical figures believed to personify each trait and
their list of 24 included fairness, humility, hope, humor, appreciation, of beauty and the love of learning.
Using their list as a scorecard for virtue points to determine the most honorable person is impossible but that hasn’t stopped people from
discussing the greatest honor in terms of virtue.
Richard Nixon did some things that people might consider dishonorable, but his perspective is illuminating. In his first inaugural address he said “the greatest honor history can bestow is the title of peacemaker.”
Peacemaker. But who has the authority to judge virtue? Hopefully not individuals.
Richard Wiseman’s brilliant “Quirkology” discusses a survey conducted
in 1997 by US News & World Report, which asked people who they thought was somewhat likely to go to heaven as a marker of perceived virtuous
conduct and personal integrity it’s really illuminating.
52 percent thought that Bill Clinton would,
60 percent but Princess Diana would and a full 79 percent said
that they thought Mother Teresa would go to heaven but she was only second-place. 87 percent of respondents agreed that someone else was likely to go to heaven.
Who do they think that was? Themselves.
The greatest honor a country bestows upon those who have defended, fought for it, often carries the most awe-inspiring stories.
The greatest military honor in the United Kingdom is the Victoria Cross.
In the United States it’s the Medal of Honor, given for
conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty.
Many of its recipients are honored posthumously.
They are people who acted instantly and without regard for their own safety they’ve walked into enemy fire, loosing their lives to communicate life-saving messages.
They have fallen on grenades to absorb the impact with their bodies, so that others around them wouldn’t have to. Samuel Johnson’s second definition of honor focuses not so much on honor that comes from being ethically excellent, but instead on honor that comes from power, from being royal or famous. Global surveys have shown
that many corporate logos, like the golden arches, are more famous
than any celebrity or other symbols.
So, technically speaking, the greatest honor as far as becoming famous and globally known might simply be to become a fast food mascot. Not all honorable people get honored. How does a grand, recognized public act made possible by being in the right
place at the right time with the right opportunities compare to the honor of merely being the best person you can be?
A good citizen, a mother, a father, an otherwise unrecognized person who is nonetheless an amazing hero to a few. Your family, your friends, that one person who really needed you.
Is recognition merely an accident of luck?
A snowball effect, an accumulation of advantage.
People who stand out when they are young are often given access to more opportunities, which then leads to and entitles them
to more opportunities later on, accumulating overtime like snow on a
snowball that eventually becomes an entire boulder of snow only the original snowball of which
was the original person. Historians have pointed this phenomenon
out, the accumulation of advantage, when criticizing the great man theory of history.
The idea that human history can be talked or understood as a time line of few important honored individuals. Philip Zimbardo, the researcher behind the infamous Stanford Prison, study has shown that the
wrong situation can bring out evil in almost anybody.
He stressed in his recent TED talk that not all of us will encounter just
the right opportunities to become the next Gandhi or Neil Armstrong.
But what we can do is live our lives with what Zimbardo calls a heroic imagination.
As a hero and waiting, who thinks sociocentrically, not egocentrically. He says most heroes are everyday people, who emerge as heroes in particular situations. So, a fair argument can be made that simply knowing you did the right thing when
presented with the situation involving Peterson and Seligman’s virtues and strengths is the greatest honour possible, the most honorable life. Now, whether or not that honorable
behavior is recognized Well, Cato the Elder questioned the value imparted by physical awards by simply saying, “after I’m dead I’d rather have people ask why I have no monument than why I have one.”
It’s an honor to talk to you guys every week.
So, as always, thanks for watching.