March 5, 2007
The concept of loyalty is highly valued. We all want to be and to be perceived as being loyal. We want to be loyal to our family, friends, employer, and colleagues. However we may be faced with a conflict of loyalties.
Last month a New York Police Officer was charged of covering up for her husband who was charged in the shooting of another policeman. The Police officer was seen driving the SUV her husband used to get away. In her defense she said: “Me loving him does not condone what he did.”
In April 1996, Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber who terrorized America for more than 30 years was finally arrested. He was turned in by his own brother, David Kaczynski. He was later convicted for the death of three individuals and for wounding 23 and is now serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Some years ago, Elizabeth Kopp, the first woman elected to Switzerland’s Federal Council and Minister of Justice had to resign because she informed her husband, a businessman, that the government was investigating one of his companies. She was a loyal wife by being “true to him, as long as they both lived.” yet she was considered disloyal to the Government and her colleagues.
We also want to be loyal citizens yet we know that blind loyalty can be very dangerous.
During WW II, US citizens of Japanese origin were sent to detention camps on the suspicion of double loyalty. The majority of the German population was very loyal to Hitler but where was their loyalty to their Jewish neighbors? Where is the line between “My Country tis of Thee” and “Deutschland Uber Alles”? As Mark Twain once said: “Loyalty to the country always, loyalty to the Government, when it deserves it.”
These can be complex situations. What are the guidelines that could be helpful in solving the issues?
- We need to be free to make our decisions and be accountable for them. The concept of loyalty conveys the sense of autonomy and responsibility.
- We should consider the consequences of our action (or inaction) in any given situation, not only for ourselves, but also for our family our immediate circle of friends as well as for society at large.
- We should be able to live (and sleep) with the decisions we have made.
- We should also consider the legal implications involved and have a clear understanding of what is required by the law.
- Most importantly we should be loyal to ourselves and our beliefs and values.
In considering all these, it might be helpful to apply the Kant principle of whether or not society could function if our decisions were universally applied.