Why Do We Honor Our Dead?

By | August 10, 2020

[August 10, 2020]  Each year in the United States and nearly every country on Earth, there is a time set aside to honor those who died in their service to the Nation.  Memorial Day 2020 was on May 25th, and I wrote about this topic to note the sacredness of the holiday.1  But rarely do we ask the question, Why do we honor our dead?

Whether we speak of our war dead or our long-lost ancestors, there seems to be something that draws us into remembering those who came before us.  Maybe they helped make the world a better place or made it possible for us to succeed.  Or, perhaps they showed us how to sacrifice for a better future.  Regardless, honoring the dead is a behavior practiced across all cultures and also across time.

We also spend loads of money and time to honor our dead.  From the cost of a casket and burial site to bringing up their memory, remembering lessons they gave us, and purchasing symbols of how we loved and respected them.  Funerals are expensive, and, on average, an American spends around $9,0002 for a burial.  Our emotions are in high gear during this time as we follow the path to honor those who came before us.

Some archaeologists and a few psychologists have proposed that honoring the dead serves an ancient need.  It is a bit surprising that today, there is still generally no accepted theory concerning ancestor veneration. Yet, some believe that by honoring our dead, we are fostering group cohesion.3  Group cohesion, of course, leads to a higher probability of group survival.  Thus, honor the dead serves as a societal survival mechanism.

The reasons for honoring the dead may have changed, but hour human nature to do so has not changed.  Many venerate the dead by publicizing their lifetime of works, passing along their valued possessions, preserving photographs and stories, and by planting flowers near their graves.  I regularly tell the stories of my relatives who were in various famous military battles in the American Revolutionary War and Civil War.  I’m proud of what they did.  I want to tell of their exploits, pains and failures, and of their successes.

We no longer need to honor our dead relatives to survive, but we do need their thinking.  What they thought can help make our day a little bit brighter.  I’ve traveled many miles out of my way to visit a grave.  I attend all funeral services that are possible.  And, I talk to both relatives and friends to discover what they do to honor our dead.  In that, I’m a better person for it.

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  1. https://www.theleadermaker.com/memorial-day-2020-heroes-honor-humility/
  2. https://seniorslifeinsurancefinder.com/average-funeral-cost/
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Veneration_of_the_dead
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

18 thoughts on “Why Do We Honor Our Dead?

  1. Maureen S. Sullivan

    My uncle was killed in the Korean War. He had written his family many times but I have his letters. They are important to me. As I re-read them now over the years, I get a better appreciation of him, his buddies, and the war itself. I tell my children the stories he so succinctly wrote about in those letters. Sharing his stories is how I honor him.

    1. Darwin Lippe

      You are fortunate to have his letters. Most of us have nothing at all from our relatives who passed away and not even family stories about them. So sad.

  2. Lynn Pitts

    I am proud of our sevicemen and women who have given up so much to defend us all. And, not just Americans but most of Europe and the Americas. It goes without saying that I also have a special place in my heart for those who were killed or seriously injured in battle. They should be honored. Any group or society that does not honor those killed in war, will soon cease to exist because someone will come along and destroy them.

  3. Kenny Foster

    I disagree a bit with the premise that “The reasons for honoring the dead may have changed, but hour human nature to do so has not changed. ” While human nature has not changed, the reasons for honoring the dead has NOT changed…. at least in my opinion. We want to REMEMBER the dead. That is why we pay our respects. My mother told me that funerals are not for the dead but for the living. She had a good point. This is about the living and what the dead can give us too.

    1. Fred Weber

      Good point Kenny. The dead can give us something but that is what Gen. Satterfield is saying.

      1. Kenny Foster

        Yes, but the “what” is what is article by Gen. Satterfield is about.

      2. Yusaf from Texas

        The answers were given. Can anyone think of what else the dead can give us? Now, I know that is a weird question but worth asking.

  4. Dennis Mathes

    Interesting topic today. Hmmmm,,, I’ve not really ever given funerals (or how we treat the dead) until this article. Appreciate you getting me to think about it.

  5. Joe Omerrod

    We’ve all been to funeral services. We all have a ‘funny’ feeling when we are there. Is it because our relatives are there? Is it because we see our failures in the passed relative? Is it that we are simply uncomfortable with the setting (eg church, synagogue)? Why is it? I hate to leave these questions unanswered but that is the point. Thanks all.

    1. Newtown Manager

      Yes, I remember attending my grandfather’s funeral as a young child. Had a big impact on me. Maybe there is something to the need for humans to respectfully address the dead in some way that has the proper affect on us all.

  6. Jake Tapper, Jr.

    Very interesting topic, Gen. Satterfield. Noteworthy the way you tackled the subject. I would have hoped for a few more references and how folks see the dead in other cultures. ?

  7. Max Foster

    Another great article and on a topic that I was not expecting at all. Too many of us just pass by things that should be studied, or at least looked at and thought about, but this is one that none of us even can imagine has any level of significance. Studying how we venerate the dead is a view into the human soul.

    1. Tom Bushmaster

      So very true. We can learn a lot about people by how they respect the dead. If the dead are treated well, then we might have a society worth something.

    2. The Kid 1945

      Well said, Max. Once again, you’ve made a good point. In this case, however, I’m not so sure that all of us are worthy of venerating our ancestors. Too many of our young think that the dead were a bunch of losers and that they are the enlightened ones. ha ha … to bad that they are far off base.

  8. Eric Coda

    Nicely done, Gen. Satterfield. Thank you for putting up this important question.

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