The Old Code

One of my many odd little quirks is that I tend to have a very unrealistic view of the world. I’m a big fan of the medieval and the fantastic, and a lot of that has taken root in my psyche. While, in general, I have a very pessimistic view of the world, in some part of my mind I hold out hope for something better. I suppose the best way to talk about this is to first mention three codes of morality and behavior that are constantly on my mind – the Old Code from the movie Dragonheart, the Iron Code from the David Gemmell novel The First Chronicles of Druss the Legend, and the Boy Scout Law.

Dragonheart was a fantasy movie in the 90s, and while I’m a fan of it, it wasn’t the greatest movie ever made. It features Dennis Quaid as a knight, Bowen, who has lost his way and turned to hunting dragons to assuage his inner guilt and anger, and Sean Connery as the voice of the last dragon who manages to connect with Bowen and turn him back towards the principles he used to live by – the Old Code. The Old Code is as follows: “A knight is sworn to valor. His heart knows only virtue. His blade defends the helpless; his might upholds the weak. His word speaks only truth. His wrath undoes the wicked.” I don’t know why this has stuck in my mind, but it has, likely because the chivalric and fantastic ideals of knighthood have always been something I have had a strong interest in. I also see something of myself in the character of Bowen, because often the world feels so unpleasant and depressing to me that it is hard to stick to my principles, especially when they only seem to make my life more difficult.

Next is the Iron Code. In David Gemmell’s book, which chronicles the early years of one of his more popular character, Druss the Legend, readers find that Druss, the iconic warrior from the book Legend, started out as a farmer with some anger issues and a great deal of personal strength, on a quest for revenge after the love of his life is kidnapped from his village. It is only when he meets a mentor, someone willing to try and teach him a better way of doing things, that he begins to have much success, because his great physical strength isn’t enough unless it is bounded by great moral strength, as well – this is where the Iron Code comes in. As Shadak, the mentor who teaches Druss, puts it, the Iron Code is this: “Never violate a woman, nor harm a child. Do not lie, cheat or steal. These things are for lesser men. Protect the weak against the evil strong. And never allow thoughts of gain to lead you into the pursuit of evil. Never back away from an enemy. Either fight or surrender. It is not enough to say I will not be evil. Evil must be fought wherever it is found.” The code is stark, very black and white, and holds those following it to a high standard. Even Shadak, later in the book, finds it hard to live up to, and grows slightly bitter when he sees Druss living up to its ideals, even in the face of hardship, when Shadak could not. I feel that way all the time, when I see others doing the right thing even when I choose the easier path, but it is something to look up to.

Finally, we come to the Boy Scout Law. Putting aside all issues of the Boy Scouts and their stance on LGBT people, I was a Cub Scout, and then a Boy Scout, and then a Boy Scout leader from when I was 7 or 8 until the time I was 20. I spent a lot of time at meetings, on campouts, and doing good things with the Scouts; I didn’t really have a conception of why they would have a moral stance I now find repugnant, though it does seem to be slowly changing. I think it helped me to become who I am today, and becoming an Eagle Scout remains one of my proudest achievements. Boy Scouts are required, at every meeting, to recite two codes, the Boy Scout Oath and the Law. The Oath, I always found, was a bit too nationalistic and religious in tone, but the Law is simply a recitation of values and qualities a Scout aspires to. The Law is as follows: “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.” While at present I am not particularly reverent, having been an atheist for several years, nor am I particularly cheerful – I am suffering from depression, after all – I do try to live up to the remaining tenets of the law.

These three codes of morality are things I aspire to, and attempt to follow on a daily basis. They are often unrealistic, which can become a problem with my mental illness – living up to unrealistic expectations makes it very easy for me to move to an area where I find myself totally unworthy of anything. They are also based very heavily in the fantastic, because two of them derive from works of fantasy, and while actual, historical knights did tend to live by a moral code, it wasn’t nearly as clear-cut as these, nor as fanciful. It’s odd that someone as pessimistic in their view of the world around them would try to live up to such ideals of morality. I actually keep copies of the Old Code and Iron Code in my wallet at all times, and I have the Boy Scout Law memorized;  pull them out when I feel like I am in a moral gray area, or I don’t know what the right thing to do is. I may not always make the right choice – often I seem to end up simply taking the easy way out – but I feel it is important that I strive to be better than I am.

That’s one of the important things I have realized in my treatment over the last several months. It isn’t important that I always meet the standards I set for myself – and it would indeed be difficult, given that some of them are just foreign to me now. What is important is that I have something to strive towards, because without some kind of goal, whether a moral or practical one, I am always in danger of finding myself sitting alone in my room, isolating from those who care about me, feeling unworthy of love, trust, and everything else. For me, to be without a goal is to be in very real danger of ending my life, because it is during the times when I feel the most lost that I turn to extreme methods – like suicide attempts – to try and correct the situation. 

If you know me and you think I don’t have a goal, talk to me. Help me work something out, some goal to aspire to, whether it is something simple like working out that day or something more long-term, like trying to live up the the terms of a fantastical code of morality. I may not know it at the time, and it may not seem like it to you, but doing so might be helping to save my life.

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2 comments on “The Old Code

  1. Michael Stanmore says:

    I agree with practically everything you’ve written. I once heard a version of the Code of Chivalry which resonated with me so strongly I committed it to memory (along with Druss’ Iron Code). The oath bound the knight to:
    Defend the People
    Honour the Temporal Lord
    Protect the weak and womankind, widows and orphans.
    When I taught kung fu, my students all heard me mention it occasionally.
    I have no religion, I have a code of behaviour.
    It’s good to read the musings of a kindred spirit.

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