Jay Rifenbary

Jay Rifenbary's Blog

Honor Versus Friendship – A Battle for the Ages


Our nation is transitioning toward the biggest federal government infiltration into our lives since the New Deal, as a society how did we ever return to this archaic juncture of dependency? I believe it has not been the result of the masses but rather the self-centered agendas of powerful corporate, financial, media, and political leaders; and we have certainly witnessed the destructive aftermath of their wrath of greed and power. I have wondered how an individual like a Bernie Madoff can sleep at night knowing the acquiring of his yacht and other riches were the result of destroying people’s financial lives through the use of his deceitful and dishonorable behavior. As a society, have we lost an understanding of what it means to be honorable? Honor is defined as, “personal integrity maintained without legal or other obligation.”, “nobility of mind; probity”. Let us imagine a society where all individuals and leaders maintain honor without allowing outside influence, power and greed to compromise their ability to make a decision for the greater good; a society where we all had “nobility of mind”. What an amazing world it would be.

My Alma Mater is the United States Military Academy at West Point, where I was a graduate in 1980. The Academy’s motto is “Duty, Honor, Country” with a strict honor code that states, “A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal or tolerate those who do.” This honor code is instilled in every cadet, and agreed to in writing from the moment they enter. During my sophomore year, I was dealt a personal challenge that tested friendship against adherence to the honor code. My roommate and I had the same deadline for the submission of a research paper. We were both engaged in the same course, but we each had a different professor. Although I had finished my research, I did not initiate the writing of my paper until the night before the paper was due.

Coincidently my roommate had not begun the writing of his paper either. The difference between us that night was I completed the writing of my paper that evening whereas my roommate decided to “hit the sack” without writing anything. The following morning we both, to my surprise, submitted our assignments. A week had gone by before our research papers were returned to us. Upon seeing my roommate’s graded paper on his desk, I noticed the paper I was observing looked almost identical in content, sentence structure, grammar and vocabulary to my paper. My roommate had awakened after I had gone to bed that particular evening and copied my paper.

What do I do? What would you do? I did not lie, cheat or steal, but if I do not report my roommate I am in violation of the honor code for tolerating his cheating. Do I choose my roommate, or the honor code? Would a true friend put me in this position? Could I graduate with a good conscience knowing I had violated the honor code by tolerating someone else’s violation? These are a few questions I conjured up and struggled with. I confronted him several times in an attempt to convince him to turn himself in, but to no avail. After pondering the questions and deciphering many internal deliberations, the final decision I made was to report the incident. As a result, there was a formal investigation, honor hearing, and the dismissal of my roommate from the Academy for violating the honor code. I made a commitment to abide by a code of honor that embodies an institution I decided to belong to. What would it say about me as a future leader, parent or citizen if I had violated the very code that I agreed to uphold?

I share this experience with you, so everyone reading this will entertain the idea of discussing with others, and your children, what it means to be honorable. I have no expectation that everyone would make the same decision I made, but I do have the expectation that everyone will ask themselves, “what does it mean to be honorable?” and ask yourself “am I living an honorable life?” If as a society it becomes acceptable for excuses to be made for one’s dishonorable behavior, and no need for individual accountability, there will no longer be any need to live honorably. To know thyself as a person with honor, is to be known by others as a person of honor.

Manners – A Reminder for Young and Old Alike


What does it mean to be mannerly? Manners are defined in the “New Oxford American Dictionary” as “polite or well-bred social behavior”, and polite is defined as “having or showing behavior that is respectful and considerate of other people.” As a society have we lost an understanding of the important significance in being mannerly towards one another? Are we too self-centered or self-absorbed with our own agendas that we carelessly disregard our behavior towards others? What mannerly path are our youth on, and what is the exemplifying trend that we as parents and adults display to our young? There is a persuasive thought that we may have lost the societal battle in creating a citizenry that is mutually respectful and considerate. I believe the battle is not lost, and it is time for all of us to initiate a resurgence in reinforcing the manners that we expect from our children and one another.

It was not long ago in my local mall, where I witnessed a young boy being disciplined by his mother in which the boy turned away from his mother, lifted his arm, directed it towards her with his palm open, and stated, “talk to the hand”. Upon hearing the exchange, I reacted like Kramer walking through the door into Seinfeld’s apartment, with that bodily twitching motion, and stunned surprise. Subsequently, to my chagrin, the mother dismissed the behavior as it being the norm, and not worth committing any effort in correcting the behavior. I will share with all of you if either of my children had ever told me to “talk to the hand” they would have been escorted out of the mall by me, taken home and disciplined, resulting in a considerable loss of privileges.

The common courtesies of “thank you”, “please” and “your welcome” should never be neglected. Small acts of kindness such as opening a door for someone, or the chivalrous behaviors we as men used to do for women should not be forgotten. Whether it be pulling out a chair to assist in the sitting process, or stand up when ladies excuse themselves from the table. You may think that is old fashioned, out of date, and not necessary, but how nice it feels to be treated with a degree of respect and politeness, and how appreciated it is. You don’t think a few relationship bonus points aren’t being accumulated when you display courtesies? The fact is being polite and displaying manners is the right thing to do. Whether someone responds or not is irrelevant but it should not deter us from continuing to set the appropriate example.

Additionally, there have been many instances where I do not turn a blind eye to disrespect, and have corrected inappropriate responses from young people and even adults; and informed them their disrespect and lack of manners are not acceptable. Whether my corrective behavior is adhered to or not, at least others will know where I stand, and what is expected in regard to being mannerly.

Manners also pertain to a very important aspect in initiating a relationship with others both personally and professionally. The old cliché that an individual only has one chance to make a good first impression is as important and truthful today as it ever was. That first impression is key in establishing a positive rapport with others. For example, an initial interview for potential employment, and the acquiring of that employment will be significantly influenced by the manners displayed by the interviewee. In addition, how one communicates effectively is also congruent with portraying mannerly behavior. Answering yes, instead of yeah, articulating your thoughts without every other word being ah, like, um, you know, etc, has a huge impact in how that person is perceived. As a member of my local Congressional District Service Academy Selection Committee, the interview process of perspective candidates provides a clear illustration of the impact manners, courtesy, and respectful communication has on the board’s impression of those candidates. Let us all take the time to be more cognizant of how mannerly, or not mannerly we are to one another, and the example we set for our children. Our little darlings are not always so darling, and educating them in understanding the important role of manners, and holding them accountable, should not be diminished by societal acceptance of behaviors that are disrespectful towards others.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

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