It’s a powerful scene in the movie Kingdom of Heaven, in which newly-minted Christian knight Balian (Orlando Bloom) releases into freedom ‘Saracen’ knight Imad ad-Din al-Isfahani…on account of his quality.
Balian had fought and defeated what he thought was Imad’s master, over a horse found on the master’s desert plot. Balian ordered Imad to take him to Jerusalem, but then released him and gifted him the horse.
“Your quality will be known among your enemies, before ever you meet them,” Imad says, before riding off.
He recognized the goodness (or at least capacity for mercy?) in Balian.
For some reason I find this line and what it represents to be much deeper than its thirteen words might seem at a superficial glance.
The core idea — that someone’s quality of character or history of action could resonate far beyond oneself, even among those who might oppose you — is found in a number of faith and cultural traditions.
In the Buddhist Dhammapada: “Not in the sky, nor in the midst of the sea, nor yet in the clefts of the mountains, nowhere in the world (in fact) is there any place to be found where, having entered, one can abide free from (the consequences of) one’s evil deeds.”
At the core of this, of course, is karma–what goes around, comes around; you get what you give. But there isn’t necessarily the recognition of character in this. One’s karmic debt might influence one’s interaction with the universe, but that doesn’t mean one’s reputation precedes him.
In the Bible, too, are a number of corollaries. In Galatians we find a line repeated in Kingdom of Heaven, as well, “Make no mistake: God is not mocked, for a person will reap only what he sows, because the one who sows for his flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows for the spirit will reap eternal life from the spirit.”
Or in Luke, with the story of the Good Samaritan. Although a victim is left on the road by two people who might be expected to offer help, it was the ‘outcast’ Samaritan who was the true neighbor. Jesus is quoted as saying the true neighbor was “the one who treated him [the victim] with mercy,” telling us to “go and do likewise.”
Or perhaps Sirach has a better match. “The kindness people have done crosses their paths later on; should they stumble, they will find support.”
And that’s maybe bolstered in Philippians with the clear directive, “Your kindness should be known to all.”
Of course The Golden Rule applies to the core idea here as well, but it doesn’t necessarily deal with the idea your reputation for fairness and goodness would be known even by your enemies.
I’m sure there are examples from other traditions that might apply.
I don’t know why this idea speaks to me as it does.
There are pros and cons to the world knowing you are just and good-hearted. Unscrupulous people might try to take advantage of your morals and personal credo, and use your playing-by-the-rules against you.
But among those with honor — and honor and nobility are characteristics inherent in the dynamics of Kingdom of Heaven — then that reputation bolsters your standing, and in theory you’d be afforded respect and courtesy even among those who disagree or oppose you.
(This is obviously not a perfect system, and the sins of the feudal world are many. But I hope you’ll forgive me for staying on my original line of thought.)
We can’t always know which people in our lives are playing honorably or unscrupulously, and we can’t control what someone might do with the knowledge we play by the rules.
We can only control ourselves, our actions, and our interactions. How we will be judged, is by how we act, and who we are now.
And it should be done with humility. There’s a difference in earning one’s reputation through action, or by being one’s own cheerleader.
If we were to be judged on our lives up to this point, can we stand confidently before our Judge and claim excellence? In my opinion, everyone’s truthful answer should be “No, but I tried my best.”
Find interesting stories of faith at the Faith Full Podcast.