Of all the knighthoods that the various kings and queens of the world can bestow, the British designation seems to be the most renowned. This is likely due to the time when Britain controlled nearly a quarter of the world. As its colonial power waned, Britain’s cultural preferences continued to be instilled into the minds of everyone whom ever had to deal with it. Even the United States, founded in part on a fuzzy idea that all men were created equal, never really let go of the reverence for royalty.
The history of knighthood begins with a particular social class managing to prosper the idea that they were fundamentally better than most. Further back into human history, you’ve got to figure any idea like this stems from people rallying around someone whom protected others enough for there to be some semblance of order. And once you tilt the order in someone else’s favor, all the more resources he or she has to maintain as such–which brings us to knighthood. The nobility established knighthoods as a lower-form of itself–a way to reward those in service to it. Often the service was being part of the trained fighting force that the term ‘knight’ has become synonymous with. Even with the late Middle Ages’ advent of the chivalrous code (perhaps most famously derived from the legends of King Arthur), the majority of knights were — in reality — glorified mercenaries.
As society changed, knighthoods shifted from vocations to privileged titles, and they remain honorary designations granted by royalty in a modern world where the idea that someone else can’t really be fundamentally better than someone else is supposed to be a given. But perhaps that’s optimism on my part, a moral taken from modern stories that tell people they can be whatever they want to be while disregarding so much of the way the world works.
Stephen Hawking, the theoretical physicist who seemingly never turns down an offer to use his voice or likeness in a TV show, reportedly did turn down an offer for a knighthood. A man who can work through intricate details of scientific theorems most people have a hard time fathoming bits of is apparently not keen on something as intangible as titles. And while I agree with that sentiment, I do think that the reverence for titles means something — certainly far more than it should — and because it’s not going away anytime soon, is worth utilizing by the likes of you or me. (We can even give ourselves titles, if we like. Doesn’t really matter.)
I’ve heard “Sir ______” used as a both title of reverence and derision. But instead of implying that someone isn’t up to the caliber of what it takes to be honored by historical nobility as a knight, I don’t see why I, or anyone else, shouldn’t be able to designate Dames, Ladies, or Sirs as they see fit. Because how many people are there, and have there been, that are completely worthy of the reverence for the way they’ve helped champion a world where people are only noble in spirit? Lots. And most of our own knights aren’t trumpeted to many other people.
Like the Lady Zitkala-Sa, an amazing writer and activist of Dakota origin. Or Sir Robert Pharr, writer of The Book of Numbers, one of the greatest twentieth century novels you probably haven’t read. And Sir Thomas Day, who freshly criticized “. . . signing resolutions of independency with the one hand, and with the other brandishing a whip over his affrighted slaves.”
If knighthoods continue to be so revered when they come from an esteemed template, well obviously discovering and knighting people is an option you have too.