Some virtues are obvious.
It’s hard to imagine a villain who is particularly generous, hard to conceive of some great evil that values honesty, and almost impossible to accept someone who is truly compassionate lose their humanity.
However, has it ever occured to you how strange it is that we almost universally consider loyalty to be one of these virtues?
Our books and stories are full of villains who are, if nothing else, insanely loyal.
In fiction, what galactic empire could thrive without the loyalty of its servants?
In history, what totalitarian regime could rise without that same strong feeling of support or allegiance?
It’s why calling loyalty a virtue feels as strange as calling strength or intelligence a virtue. These are things that can be used for good, but in and of themselves are not virtuous. The question with loyalty should be, what should we be loyal to?
This question is even harder today. The only time I see loyalty discussed is in regards to credit cards and miscellaneous rewards programs. The idea of unwavering allegiance feels like an echo of another time. And yet, I think that the upside-down paradox of the virtue of loyalty offers us a hidden truth. A truth worth uncovering in the modern day.
It seems that the world we occupy is not particularly loyal at its default setting. It offers few assurances, few absolutes, and few facts that we can truly rely upon.
The tendency is, as the poets say, for things to fall apart. Not fall together. We are all thrust unexpectedly into a bright, new, and scary world. A world full of all things good, yes, but also all things that can hurt us. In the face of that, we grow new allegiances to our families, our friends, our cliques, and our thoughts. We develop tastes, preferences, likes, dislikes–tiny little ideas and beliefs that we hold with varying degrees of loyalty.
And sometimes, those things can make us forget the most pressing loyalty of all–the very first certainty we are ever given.
We latch onto new teams built around everything from the trivial to the serious. We latch onto groups of people defined by their loyalty to an idea or belief set or certain flavor of ice cream.
And those allegiances are good, necessary, and healthy—until they come in-between us and our first allegiance, the one we are all still called to be loyal to:
It’s a different kind of team. A quiet one. The knowledge that by and large, no matter how much time or distance separates us from others, we have more commonalities with them than we have differences. We are more alike than different. We are, no matter what else happens, human. We belong to the same team. When we hold that loyalty as our first loyalty—to whatever goodness we share—we can learn to let go of the loyalties that diverge us.
We can learn to be a part of Team Humanity.
May the road rise up to meet you!