So … another round of honours awards. Does it matter? There are those who would wish to reform and rename the UK honours system. They argue that giving top honours to business, military, diplomatic and civil service big-wigs and entertainment celebrities is an insult to the many ordinary people who have made great personal sacrifices to help uplift their local communities and support good causes. They have a point. In the light of such criticism it is worth noting that the current UK Prime Minister wants the selection process to give increasing weight to those who have gone beyond excellence in playing their part to create his ‘big society’ – giving as examples people working to strengthen community in deprived areas, people running neighbourhood groups, working for voluntary and charitable organisations, tackling the extremism which promotes violence and hatred, supporting green enterprise at a local level, and working towards a zero waste society(1).

While granting that the titles are anachronistic there is little evidence that broad public opinion wants to do away with the honours system. The award of an honour is the nation’s way of saying thank you publicly to those who have ‘gone the extra mile’ in their work or service and there is still support for it. Many other countries do the same – with titles and orders which reflect their cultural history. 98% of those offered awards accept them, and the majority of the 2% who refuse do so for personal private reasons(2). The award of an honour gives pleasure to the family, friends and community in which the recipient lives.

Praise for work well done is especially important in a culture where complaint is encouraged. And as the writer of Proverbs 27 v 21 points out, genuine affirmation can be a means of growth …”the purity of human hearts is tested by a little fame” (The Message).

Some need encouragement more than others … often we want to be somewhere other than where we are, or even to be someone other than who we are and it can be a struggle to persevere especially if work is experienced as mundane or stressful. Our vocation is often hidden in where we are and who we are but we must remember that we are unique human beings, each with a call to realize in life what nobody else can, and to realize it in the present time. George Eliot’s novel, Middlemarch, ends with a reminder that while many acts of goodness do go unnoticed, nonetheless society benefits – “For the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life and rest in unmarked graves.” Jesus, when cautioning about motives for good works, reminds us that whether or not society sees and rewards us, God who sees in secret will reward. Our acts are not hidden to God but we can be sure that if anyone is ‘going the extra mile’ for their community some recognition and encouragement will be affirming of them here and now. Expressions of appreciation given either individually or corporately, privately or publically, mean much to most people even if they don’t get honoured nationally. That matters and our society will be the better for it if we make the effort to test them with just a little fame.

1) Sir Gus O’Donnell: Cabinet Office. 2 Sept 2010.
2) Sir Philip Hayden: Review of the Honours System. Cabinet Office, 2004 .

Noel McCune.

Noel McCune is Chairperson of Contemporary