Honouring? Eh? What kind of an evolutionary tool is that?

A very powerful one.

Honouring has a defusing, calming effect. In the face of life’s growing turbulence, honouring transports you into the eye of the hurricane.

Many years ago, when I was a young man, I left New Zealand on my own on a world trip. My first stop was Tokyo, where I spent some days.

Cleaning ashtrays

One day, I was walking along a footpath. There were lampposts ahead, and they had little metal ashtrays bolted onto them. Japan was a country of heavy smokers but also great cleanliness.

A gaunt old man cycled up to one of these ashtrays. He leaned his bicycle against the lamppost, got out a dustpan and brush, and cleaned the ashtray.

I stopped and watched. Something extraordinary was taking place.

This man wasn’t just cleaning the ashtray. He was meticulously making it spotless. He poured the ash into a bin on the back of his bicycle, stashed the dustpan and brush—and then he saw me.

This wizened little man put his hands together and bowed. Then he climbed onto his bicycle and rode off to clean the next ashtray. And the next.


Three and a half decades later, this is my most vivid memory of Tokyo. It’s taken me all this time to figure out why. That wise old man taught me one of the great secrets of life. That every moment is precious, whether we are washing the dishes, putting out the garbage, or experiencing some vitally important moment in our work or private lives.

I figured that out a long time ago.

What I hadn’t figured out was, that man was honouring the importance of his work. He was honouring the ashtrays, the brush he swept up the ash with, the chain-smokers who stubbed out their Sakura and Golden Bat cigarettes, the workers in distant fields who harvested the tobacco, the surgeons who operated on cancer-ravaged lungs.

And he was honouring me.

We were all part of the sacred dance of life that he was engaged in.

The age of Covid

That dance goes ever on and on.

And here we are, in the age of Covid. The dance is getting faster, the dancers more ragged and fragmented. Tempers are fraying at the drop of a Peace cigarette. (I’m really getting into these Japanese cigarette brands. It’s almost a pity that I quit smoking at 10.)

The social sphere is toxic with abuse. Every personal interaction is loaded with possibilities for triggered rage. Does this person want to observe social distancing? Will they explode if I don’t wear a mask—or if I do?

In this emotionally hypervigilant environment, we need new tools. We need to defuse the constant anxiety of not knowing where on the lockdown spectrum each person we deal with resides, from evidence-intolerant conspiracy theorist to double-jabbed, double-masked (yes, Dr Fauci recommended this at one point), haz-mat suited, cotton wool-wrapped fearmonger.

Honouring is such a tool.

Meet that person with honour. They are who they are. They are where they are. Changing their viewpoint is not your priority. It’s unrealistic. Instead, do something both realistic and powerful.

Honour them, for whatever role it is that they play in your dance, whether invited or unintended. Like compassion, it has a defusing, calming effect on human interactions.

You will find that it’s impossible to honour others without honouring yourself—and vice-versa. You will also find that maintaining this state requires a lot of intent. Can you find worthiness in every element of every moment of your life?

That’s the great beauty of this tool. It forces you into presence, and presence increases our sense of personal power. In the face of life’s growing turbulence, honouring transports you into the eye of the hurricane.

There. The wind is settling. Time to light up a Lark Ice Mint.

Photo by KTMD ENTERTAINMENT on Unsplash

Exploring the Unconscious

Receive a monthly newsletter


Email field is required to subscribe.