EDITORIAL: Appropriate mark of respect, sir

Unqualified congratulations are due to recipients of the New Year honours announced today.
That list, along with the Queen's Birthday Honours nearly sixth months hence, are a way of appreciating and publicly thanking those who toil, most never seeking praise or recognition, to improve the lot of others. In the biannual round of gongs, prominent citizens - including captains of industry, scientists, artists, sportspeople, musicians, academics, police and emergency services, defence staff, civil servants and politicians - rub shoulders with folk with more modest aspirations who spend much of their lives working within the community with no expectation of reward.
The honours system began in 1348 when Edward III created the Most Noble Order of the Garter as the highest reward for loyalty and for military merit.
In New Zealand the Royal Honours System has evolved since the late 1840s, along with changes in the country's constitution, from Crown Colony to Dominion to independent realm. In 1975 a peculiarly New Zealand honour was included: The Queen's Service Order (QSO) with an associated Queen's Service Medal (QSM). A second honour, The Order of New Zealand (ONZ), was introduced in 1987.
In May 1996, the New Zealand Order of Merit replaced the traditional Orders of the Bath, St Michael and St George and British Empire and Orders of the Companions of Honour and the honour of Knight Bachelor.
The reforming broom had done its work. Knights and Dames - those titles that gilded the honours list - were consigned to the dustbin of history (though it must sit uncomfortably with the busy sweepers that the right to institute and grant honours and awards is a singularly "Royal Prerogative" with the Sovereign as the "fount of all honour").
It's nearly a decade since New Zealand dispensed with knights and dames and we are the poorer for it.
Our newly fashioned honours arose from the need to affirm a sense of proud, independent nationhood, and not a little from a repugnance at any legacy of a British imperial tradition.

But hacking noble heads from the honours system did more than sever ties with our colonial past; it debased the honours currency.
The title "Sir" or "Dame", which became the immediate casualty, confers a level of distinction that sets apart the recipient of such an honour. It was a distinction earned - not inherited or acquired. Today's knights and dames, such as Sir Russell Pettigrew and Dame Sylvia Cartwright, wear those honorifics because we respect them and we're proud of them and we want to acknowledge the contribution they have made.
Scrapping the titles is a signal declaration that they are not valued. (And to those who chorused - as they do in Britain today - that the titles were an anachronism, then so is the honorific "Mr" and "Mrs", as indeed are many other of today's conventions).
When we use the title "Sir", it is not cap-tugging deference but an appropriate mark of respect; and one that will, in time, sink into the oblivion of an ocean of misters.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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