A bunch of years ago I visited a small island in Maine with only one house that was built in the early 1800s by a farmer named John Ledbetter, hence it became Ledbetter Island.
A family, I will call Black, had owned the island since the early 20th Century. Next to the entrance door in the house was a stereotype or photo of a gentleman named in the frame as “The Honorable John Ledbetter”.
I asked Mrs. Black what Ledbetter had done to acquire that honorific generally given only to Presidential appointees and Judges.
The answer was ‘nothing” but at a town meeting in his later years the town voted him the title because he was so widely and unanimously loved and known as the as the most honest man in town.
I was startled, and struck in the moment with a wisp of an idea that came back to me recently.
True, undiluted, honesty determined by a group of people who have good reason to know the person well, up close and over an extended time, is far too rare a thing in today’s world to brush off lightly.
There are several thousand ‘town meetings’ a year across America where a very few hundreds of people meet–often for as long as a day–to agree on town officers and budgets, sometimes down to the detail of a new shovel.
Perhaps the idea of naming one town citizen a year from a nomination at [but not before] the meeting, to avoid any campaigns, to be ‘The Honorable…” could help elevate the significance, in society at large, of honor and respect of valuable fellow citizens. No town should ever feel compelled to name someone, if there is not enough widespread support for worthy candidates.
The idea could quite easily work at the town level. Above that level it gets quite a bit more complicated because relatively fewer people can know enough people well enough in much larger communities. But, it might be possible over time for larger communities–counties and states even–to consider candidates arising from the towns.
In this new world of social networking one would think more people would know more about more people. But, in fact, almost the reverse is happening where ‘friends’ are often virtual people only known reciprocally via the internet.
We need to try to rebuild the kind of respect and trust that only can grow out of truly knowing real people up close in all kinds of situations over an adequate period of time to become truly revealed.
More folks like John Ledbetter would make America a better place to live!