Honor vs. Reputation

I may have mentioned before the Lois McMaster Bujold is my favorite author. I would read anything she wrote. Well, maybe not her grocery list, but… I love her work so much that I will probably be rereading her books until I am old and decrepit. I hope she keeps writing and writing so that I have plenty to read and reread.

I consider her books to be “comfort food” — when I can’t find anything else I want to read, I pick one up. Even though I know exactly what is going to happen, I’m still gripped by her writing and her characters. And every time I reread, I find some new gem that I had noticed before — or I’m reminded of an old gem that continues to ring true. Last night’s gem was particularly apropos because of a recent e-mail exchange with a friend.

In this particular passage, the main character’s father has been asked to give his “honor versus reputation lecture.”

From page 386 of my Baen paperback copy of A Civil Campaign, Aral Vorkosigan says to his son Miles:

“Reputation is what other people know about you. Honor is what you know about yourself.”

And then on page 387, from later in the conversation:

“There is no more hollow feeling than to stand with your honor shattered at your feet while soaring public reputation wraps you in rewards.” That’s soul-destroying. The other way around is merely irritating.”


In my recent e-mail exchange, I told my friend that my reputation is one of my most important assets, and that I do everything I can to protect it. Really, though, I had it wrong. It’s my HONOR that is most important. And if I do what I know to be true and honorable, then nothing else really matters.

Now don’t be worried, my reputation hasn’t been called into question, this was just part of a conversation with a friend that got me to thinking about why I am doing some of the things I’m doing, and the choices I am making.

I have never met (and will likely never meet) most of the people that visit my blog or the website that I run for machine quilters. I ask the members of that website to trust me based primarily on my reputation. That’s a lot to ask, and every day I am conscious of making decisions that might impact my reputation.  If I can just remember that if I make those decisions with my HONOR intact, I know that the decisions I make will be the right ones.

On that note, it is time for me to wrap up this ramble and head to rehearsal.  We are under 2 weeks to go until show time and wow, there is a LOT left to be done.




  1. Jan says:

    I agree. And I also think that sometimes figuring who to and not to listen to is important. Using a discernment on why they might be trying to influence you to make a decision that you may or may not be comfortable with. Looking at it objectively etc. If someone is holding back part of the puzzle that would sway you or help explain to you the whole thing so you can make a good informed decision etc, why are they doing so? But yes, ultimately how you feel about yourself and your actions is more important than how others percieve you.

  2. Trina says:

    I loved this passage by Lois McMaster Bojold – of course I think that Miles is one of the most interesting characters I’ve ever read. But this passage, made me really think about honor vs. reputation. How do I protect one and not protect the other? Early morning thoughts to ponder over a cup of coffee.

  3. Bifford says:

    This sounds pretty but isn’t correct. I think the author is confusing “honor” with “self-esteem”. Honor is most certainly what other people think of you. It means respectability.

  4. Livia says:

    Have you read the book Bifford? The point the author is making is that what you might think is Honour is really Reputation.

  5. Suzanne says:

    I’m going to have to go with Livia (and Bujold, of course…) on this one.

    From dictionary.com (I picked just the 1st entry for each word):

    honor: honesty, fairness, or integrity in one’s beliefs and actions: a man of honor.

    self-esteem: a realistic respect for or favorable impression of oneself; self-respect.

    reputation: the estimation in which a person or thing is held, especially by the community or the public generally; repute: a man of good reputation.

    Honor and self-esteem are certainly similar, but self-esteem is how a person FEELS about themselves as a whole. Honor, on the other hand, is knowing that what one DOES is right. I can imagine scenarios in which one knows that one is DOING the right and honorable thing, but still feels terrible about themselves for having to do it.

    We can talk about how a person is honorable or acts honorably, but that’s really just our perception of their REPUTATION. Only that person themselves knows FOR THEMSELVES whether they are truly honoring their beliefs and doing the right thing.

  6. Livia says:

    In Miles’ father’s case, he was being paraded in the streets for a victory that he knew had been stage-managed as a secret assassination for the heir to the empire (who was corrupt and would have been a terribly Bad Thing). His Reputation was sky-high, but inside he knew that he had been part of something dishonourable. (Hence the second quote).

Comments are closed.