The True Meaning Of Nobility

My oldest son and I watched a movie from his great collection “Robin Hood Prince of Thieves.” There is a great quote in the movie which I was eager to use this week where Kevin Costner playing Robin Hood says, “Nobility is not a birth-right; it is defined by one’s actions.” The term “Nobility” refers to people who were “known” or “notable” and the word was applied to the highest social classes in medieval times. One had to be born into families of the upper classes to be considered a noble. Because those of nobility were also wealthy, they could afford the best of everything the world had to offer including education. Those who were noble were expected to act noble. But as is the case with all societies throughout history, those of noble birth seldom acted nobly. In the classic movie Robin Hood, a once young prince of such a noble class found himself imprisoned by the enemy in Jerusalem for fighting on England’s side in the holy wars. After escaping he returned home only to find his property and family destroyed by the greedy sheriff of Nottingham who has misused his appointment to gain riches in the King’s absence. Robin of Locksley soon gathers a group of peasant farmers willing to fight and Robin along with his companions begins a campaign of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor and winds up confronting the larger than life philosophical issue concerning the meaning of nobility. The movie makes for great entertainment as my son would surely know as he has only the best of best movies in his collection. The quote in the movie which concerns itself with people’s actions, is the epitome of the movie in my humble opinion. The way we act towards one another should be of vital interest for us all. The term nobility has many definitions. In Robin Hood, Costner’s character shows us what nobility really is as he portrays the actions of a true noble throughout the movie. I believe this is why the story of Robin Hood has such universal appeal. We have, all of us, born within us a secret yearning for excellence of being. That is what nobility should be; a principle, a way of acting that sets high standards. Nobility is not a class of people; it is people with class. It is action of a higher order. It is embodied in what the Greeks called “Arete”. It is the notion of personal excellence. It is the act of living up to one’s full potential. Nobility is what the great Greeks philosophers interpreted as virtue. From Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, II vi 15, “virtue (or nobility) is a settled disposition of the mind determining the choice of actions and emotions, consisting essentially in the observance of the mean relative to us, this being determined by principle, that is, as the prudent man would determine it.” Don’t let the lush language used here confuse you as to the simple meaning of nobility. Nobility means living the best you can in what ever circumstance you find yourself. In Robin Hood, Costner’s character exhibited behavior of an excellent nature. He was kind, yet he was not afraid to fight for what is right. He was not condescending towards others but was considerate. He was chivalrous and meek, yet he was bold and self asserting. He was a man’s man. He was a woman’s man. What we should derive from the story of Robin Hood is that humankind should strive to be excellent in all that we do. If sales is your occupation, are you ethical in what we do for customers? If you are a physician, do you treat your patients in the best possible way exhibiting excellence in your bed-side manner? If you are a teacher, do you strive to teach so that students will understand you easily? If you are a judge, do you put prejudice aside when you are judging a case in court? If you are a psychologist or therapist, do you practice confidentiality and do you seek the patient’s best interest at all times? As a parent, are you patient with your children and do you treat your children with respect? As a spouse, are you honorable in the way you treat your spouse? All these questions can be summarized using one; do you seek excellence in all that you do? It is a mind set. It is not one action. It affects all your actions. It is a way of being. If you seek this way of living, you will see many doors of opportunity open for you. You will have the power of the universe on your side. You will be tested though because we live in a world that is for the most part exactly opposite of excellence or nobility. Nobility is a journey you will never regret. You will be empowered when you begin to live the life of nobility; and you put yourself in the best place to acquire wealth and success if you strive to live a life of excellence. It is my goal and desire and I hope it is yours too.