Image courtesy of A1 K9 professional dog trainers.
"The subject who is truly loyal to the chief magistrate will neither advise nor submit to arbitrary measures." -- Junius
"You're loyal like a dog," a friend once told me. I'm still not sure if it was a compliment, but because she is one of my oldest and dearest friends, I chose to take it that way. In a postmodern world where relative morality is all the rage, my fascination with the perception and value of loyalty remains intact. I was taught early in life that loyalty is one of the benchmarks of a moral person. Loyalty to spouses, friends, family, church, employers, employees and country was a given. Of course, even then not everyone was loyal, but to be disloyal was considered a much greater transgression than it is now. That time was not so very long ago. The expression "a man's word is his bond" was not steeped in irony and accompanied by a sneer.
The dictionary defines loyalty as faithfulness, steadfastness, devotion, allegiance, trustworthiness and dependability. Mothers are almost always devoted to their children, they're hard-wired that way. Siblings may fight bitterly, then defend one another with equal passion. Spouses are not so loyal -- infidelity and divorce rates tell a grim tale. Since the downsizing/race-to-the-bottom mentality of North American society that began in the 80s, employers and workers are rarely loyal. Employers still demand loyalty, but increasingly, they are not getting it. Despite decades of employee downsizing in the midst of record profits to move operations to Third World countries -- so much for loyalty to country -- or to "streamline," employees still struggle with conflicting feelings about those who sign their paycheques. This is less true of younger workers probably because they've watched their parents lose jobs, and they're born of a generation permeated with the materialistic narcissism of the "I've got mine, Jack" dominant culture. And yet many of the young people I teach still express a need to be loyal, even if they know it won't necessarily be rewarded.
It's a dog's life
What inspires blind loyalty in some people and not others? Some suggest that it's a fear of abandonment. People who haven't known much stability in their lives cling to what they have even if it's toxic to them. Others attribute a more healthy kind of loyalty to strong moral character, but as my friend noted, what's the point of being loyal to people who don't care about you? I think it's more complicated than that. People want to be loyal because it is easier to live with degrees of certainty than in a vaccum. Most of us yearn to believe the best about people no matter how many times we've been disappointed. It is possible to be aware of human frailties and remain loyal, although it's not always easy. This is where honour, another old-fashioned concept, comes into play. Those who scoff at loyalty tend to view life through a lens of "what have you done for me lately?" rather than collaboration to the benefit of both parties. There is also loyalty to self. For me, this means staying true to my principles no matter how much harder it is than doing what others want. This has cost me jobs, money, romantic partners and even friends, but I have not regretted it -- much.
In an age as cynical as ours, loyalty is often dismissed as old fashioned, self-destructive and even stupid. And yet the dog, revered for its loyalty in western culture, remains man's best friend. Nobody said human nature was easy to understand.