The MDI Code of Honor

The Code of Honor was created by the men of what was then known as the Sterling Men’s Divisions. It contains 15 different tenets.  It was intended to reflect some basic core values that all the men could rally behind, support and use as a benchmark for the ways of being we could expect from one another.

   In the late 1990s some men from the Western Region (the Bay area around San Francisco) created an ark which contained 15 different pieces of wood, one for each tenet. Each stick was made of a specific type of wood and bore a specific design that reflected the way in which the men of the Western Region related to the tenets of the Code of Honor.   The ark has since made its way throughout North America and men throughout MDI have had the opportunity to connect with it.  I had the opportunity to safe guard it for a while and was moved to write a little about my relationship to each tenet.  What follows is the treatise that was created as a companion piece to the ark.

                            First Tenet of the Code                       

Commitment Before Ego

 Wood: Manzanita – A strong hearty tree that grows in some of the most barren environments.  Where other things have difficulty surviving, Manzanitas continue to grow and branch outward. A commitment driven by a powerful context will flourish like the Manzanita tree.

 Symbol: Coyote – In Native American mythology, the Coyote is the trickster, the clever one who often tricks himself with his own cleverness.

         To be successful, a man must possess a strong and healthy ego.  However, a man’s ego can consume him if he has not learned how to master it.  Without a strong set of core values, I have often found myself drawn to doing what felt good wthout giving any thought to the ramifications.  Any man living life without  a clear sense of his commitment will find himself  being led by whatever happens to be at hand in the moment (usually his feelings or his ego).   His life is one of reaction rather than proaction.

  Commitment before Ego demands two disciplines: 

·        To practice and possess a firm understanding and adherence to one’s purpose and commitment; and,

·        To hold an iron mastery over one’s ego. 

 Many people equate commitment to making a pledge or promise to do something.  Actually commitment is action.  Commitment shows up not in what we say in the passion of a moment or even the things we do when spurred on by others or when things are going well.  The benchmark of your commitment is evidenced by your actions when the underlying reasons behind your words seem challenged.  When you no longer wish to be held to what you said.  When there appears to be no reward for following through.  When quitting looks like an attractive option.  This is where the Ego has fertile ground to play its tricks.

    There are many definitions and theories about the ego.  Although Native Americans embody it in the form of a Coyote, it is more elusive than that.  It is usually easier for others to see Ego governing our actions than it is for us. when I find myelf needing to defend or explain my actions, it is usually a good indction that my ego is engaged.  rarely do you feel compelled to justify ctions driven by commitment becasue the actions speak for themselves.  When I am operating out of commitment, I am more interested in doing  than discussing. 

           This tenet is not Commitment over Ego.  It is Commitment Before Ego.  By that we mean let your commitment lead your ego rather than the other way around.  The need to look good is Ego before commitment.  The desire to do good is Commitment before ego.

         There is nothing wrong with doing things because they feel good.  I am a firm believer in the notion of “enlightened self interest”.  I do good not because I am altruistic and aspire to be Ghandi.  There is always something very definite in it for me.  The key is to know what that pay off is so that I can keep my ego in check and be honest with myself about my motivations.  Fortunately, the men around me will help me to find ways to feed my ego while adhering to a higher commitment than just my personal self interest.

 2nd Tenet-  Honor the Truth

            Wood:  Madrone – The Madrone trees grow on hillsides, intermingled with many other species of tree.  They do not dominate their environment and from a distance are unremarkable.  They are easily overlooked.  But on closer inspection, their bark gives away a hint of the rich beautiful wood that lies within.


                 Symbol: Sun & Moon – These are universal symbols of light.  The sun projects the light and the moon reflects it.  Without the moon’s reflection there would be  no evidence of the sun’s presence.  For this reason Zen Buddhism considers the moon to be the symbol of enlightenment for it captures the light and sends it outward.

 The whole notion of  there actually being something that is universally true is something of a lie.  

 Personal truth is just like fingerprints or DNA, it is consistently unique for everyone . So if that is the case why have a tenet that asks men to honor the truth?  Well because that is exactly what it is asking you to do.  Honor the truth, not just yours but others. 

So how do you get there?  Start by asking yourself a simple question, Why am I here?

From there the questions peel away like an onion.

What do I hope to get for myself?  What do I hope to give back to my family, community, the planet?  Who itch do I hope to get scratched from all this giving?   What do I really really want?

 Asking these questions is in essence what most would characterize as engaging in the search for truth.  This search lies at the heart of every religion and drives every philosophical construct.

 Buddhist say that when you perceive truth, all else drops away, ego vanishes and there is nothing more than that moment.  A passage of the New Testament of the Bible says, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”  It really is that simple, so long as you keep it personal.

 The complications set in when you try to impose your truth on others.  Once you accept that truth is a very personal thing, you come to realize that no one person and no set of people can claim ownership to it.

 All of us have experienced moments when our truth about something has become crystal clear to us, sometimes painfully so.   I know when I am there not because it resonates in my head but because it resonates elsewhere, in my heart, my guts my balls.   Suddenly I feel enveloped with a sense of clarity and for the moment I experience a feeling of exhilaration or of calmness and freedom.  Everything falls into place and I see things that I must have looked at a dozen times with a new perspective.

 However, just a little word of caution, this tenet does not say “Tell the truth,” rather it says honor it. 

Sometimes it is better to hold the truth in your heart than to reveal it to someone who might not be ready to face it.     For example, when you hear the question, “Honey, do I look fat in this dress?”

 So when do you speak the truth?  You can’t really pick the time, rather it picks you.   If we suddenly declared, “It is time to honor the truth.”  Each of us would unconsciously or maybe even consciously start erecting internal mazes that would make it exceedingly difficult to get to the truth.  

In MDI we strive to create an environment that fosters respect for sincerity, honor and genuineness.   To create such an environment is a challenge.  In such an environment I have found there is an opportunity to learn something.  Often it comes not from something that I say or think I know but from what I hear come out of the mouth of another man.  When I am listening to another without judgment, that’s when the truth has a chance to bubble to the surface.



                                                         3rd Tenet – Respect Confidentiality


 Wood: Eucalyptus – The eucalyptus tree is usually found growing in groups.  Its outer bark is shed easily, but gives nothing away.  Its inner bark is strong and not easily stripped away.  The strong aroma that is the true gift of this tree is safely encased within the inner bark.

 Symbol: Armadillo – In some Native American traditions, the armadillo is a symbol of boundaries.  To protect itself, the armadillo will roll itself into a ball protected by its outer shell.


Confidential – indicating confidence or intimacy.

 Respect – to hold in esteem or honor.

      One of the most misunderstood concepts I have come across is the notion of respecting confidentiality.  We go to great lengths in our men’s circles in MDI to get men to appreciate that  this tenet does not say enforce confidentiality but rather respect it.  So what does tht mean?    The tenet does not ask that we keep secrets or remain secretive.  At the start of every meeting we tell men “you are encouraged to take the lessons learned here and to share them with the men and women in your life”.  We are not looking to be secretive but to allow men to be confident that what occurs will not become the fodder for idle gossip.