The nobility of self-sacrifice


Today’s writing prompt at is to talk about what is noble to me. I gave it some good thought, but all I could really come up with was helium, xenon, argon, radon, et cetera; I then turned to the dictionary – because I am a word geek – and so we will start with a definition. According to my pals Merry and Webby, noble is “possessing, characterized by, or arising from superiority of mind or character or of ideals or morals”.

I thought a while about it, but the problem is that everything I think of sounds like a cliché. Then I feel like somehow I am embarrassed by the idea of nobility, because I keep thinking “that’s dumb.” “I can’t say that, it’s utter pith.” Then I realized that my problem was that I was dancing around the issue – avoiding the noble thing to do in this case, which is just to spit out what I think.

The noblest thing – to me – that a person can do is to rise above fear and discomfort in all things, but especially in service to others. Some of us have an easier time doing this where we are helping others, while some of us have an easier time when we are helping ourselves; the end result, however, is the same. Given a choice to do something awesome, we weigh the costs and benefits and choose… what? Do we take upon ourselves the task that is portended in this decision or find a way out of it? Do we step out of our hobbit-hole and pursue the quest?

Hamlet asked the same question: “whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to bear arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, end them?” He was pointing out that either way is problematic – you know the axiom, “more money = more problems?” Meanwhile, when tackling a problem you are working toward a solution – unlike the responsibilities toward the maintenance of one’s “fortune”, the troubles may be brought to an end. The lesson here is that you can’t maintain good times forever, but you can use the natural resources of your mind and body to end problems for yourself and for others.

Each selfless sacrifice is a personal choice, and it’s hard to blame anyone for choosing themselves where their own survival is at stake, because we are hard-wired for survival. But what about doing it for fun? I imagine that surfing is that way in a lot of respects; I have never surfed myself, but in my research I have read and heard that it is difficult to learn and takes a lot of practice before one can even stand upright on the board. Learning to surf is a practice in wiping out, and there’s always some chagrin, if not embarrassment, involved with something like that. Does that make it noble? Absolutely, and this is no watering-down of the definition because passing down the appreciation for physical fitness and challenge – or even any activity beyond mere necessity – is an obligation we must fulfill if we are to survive the long-term as a species. With each successive generation there is more and more stuff available to make our lives easier and more effortless; if we were to become like the porpoise-fat hoverchair-bound people from Disney’s Wall-E, then what might happen if that were all taken away in an instant? That would be a crippled world. That’s a lesson better imagined and prevented, in my mind, and so physical sport and pursuits are noble because they serve as an example to the next generation that as we progress and advance, we can never forget the hunter-gatherer roots that made it possible for us to master the Universe – this is why the Ancient Greeks pursued physical sports even as they pushed the boundaries of philosophical, logical, and mathematical thought – inventing both geometry and the Olympics. They had figured the dangers of becoming physically complacent; Plato was outspoken in foretelling the decay of individual memory as written language began to flower; it was the beginning of the end for oral tradition, but now we have history books. Did we win or lose there?

So, yeah… that is what is noble to me. What’s noble to you? That could be something totally different, as I could be way off-base. I value your opinions and welcome your questions and comments – leave them below!


  1. i love that your first thoughts jumped to noble gasses.
    As for nobility…yes from your standpoint surfing ..physical challenges that do take lots of practice and lots of failures are noble…as where i jump into these kinds of thing because i have an over whelming need …if i’m interested in something …i want to do it…and the failures, while painful, or frustrating do not embarrass me…i know many have done the same thing.

    when I think of nobility, i think of someone who helps when needed, weighs facts when his morals are challenged and will stand his ground if his beliefs are good and just, but has the ability to see if he may be wrong ,admit it and adjust his thinking.
    nobility is not judging others when not having walked in their shoes.
    nobility is the will to live and never stop growing.
    nobility is the ability to be completely honest
    nobility is knowing you’re dying but living in spite of that
    nobility is simplicity.

    just my quick unedited thoughts…hope they make sense.

    • They make perfect sense. I’m the same way about pursuing interests, but while I do feel embarrassment of a kind, I’ve gotten pretty good at acting like it’s not there, because I know that eventually I will do well. You make a good point, though, to remember that others have been in the same place.

      And I appreciate your definition of nobility, and I find myself in agreement, though I struggle with judgement at times. I hope your week is going well, we are almost to the end of it!

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