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The Vice of Loyalty

The Vice of Loyalty

From a very young age, I've admired classics--from the tragic love story of Romeo and Juliet to the adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. My favorite by far was the story of the young D'Artagnan in The Three Musketeers. As a romantic, the idea that I would one day meet a group of friends who would die for one another stayed with me into my mid-twenties. With every friendship, I was "all in." I never asked what was in it for me, or if my adoration was reciprocated. And so, sourcing my definition from classic literature, I developed my somewhat romanticized conception of loyalty. It was the kind of devotion Huck displayed every time he followed Tom on some adventure or when Juliet chose to drink poison for her love--a loyalty that required no forethought. It was this loyalty that I looked for in my friendships.

In my case, I never found my musketeers, although I formed some strong friendships along the way. With such high expectations, it was unsurprising that I was disappointed--and, as the years wore on, I grew more cynical. Where was the fault? Did I simply not find the right group of friends? Or was there a fundamental flaw in my definition of loyalty?

It was very recently that I managed to wrap my head around the idea that loyalty is a vice in disguise. Don't believe me? Imagine the following scenario: 

Jake and Brian have been inseparable friends for fifteen years. Jake helped Brian overcome a drug addiction, and Brian has forever remained indebted to Jake for saving his life. Brian lent Jake money on multiple occasions, no questions asked. He helped him move, paint his new apartment, and he recently introduced Jake to the love of his life, Janine. They seemed perfect for each other, and while Brian had only known Janine for a few years, he considered her to be part of his "inner circle."

Fast forward: Jake and Janine are getting hitched and, of course, Brian is Jake's best man. Brian throws Jake a bachelor party: alcohol, strippers, poker, and good vibes all around. Brian is having a good time, but then sees Jake take one of the strippers upstairs into the bedroom. What should Brian do? Should he break it up? Sure. Should he tell Janine about it? Should he ruin their future lives together? Loyalty clouds our judgement and can jeopardize our principles. Brian believes in fidelity, but his loyalty to Jake inhibits his moral compass. The same decision might be clearer from a different perspective, such as someone "loyal" to Janine. 

We see the vices of loyalty, not only in the choices we make between groups of people, but within close-knit relationships as well. Often, it is in the form of pressure from a close friend, urging you, for instance, for answers on a final exam. Sometimes this pressure is more subtle, as when Loyalty often means going out of your way for someone else, constantly trying to please him or her. Maybe it's your boss, maybe it's your new romantic interest, or maybe it's your parents. Favor after favor, you begin to feel like you're being taken for granted. Your blind loyalty to this person--or to these people--eventually fosters resentment and bitterness.

More interesting, however, is the role loyalty plays in the formation of ideology. Excessive loyalty towards your country may have you turn a blind-eye to its short-comings and allow you to look down upon others. This is often the case with nationalism. Similarly, loyalty towards a political party forms cavernous divides, as we have seen in the recent election. In its most severe forms, it can lead to violence as was seen in the San Jose protests.

A happy life begins with self awareness and a resolve to uphold one's principles. Don't be cynical about friendship as a result of this post. True real friendship stems from honesty and over communication. I challenge you to search for discomfort, be vulnerable and giving in your relationships. Take risks, and develop life-long friendships. Yet I implore you, to never compromise on your integrity for the sake of loyalty for loyalty's sake. Do this by always being true to yourself and living life in vivid and unfiltered color.

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