True loyalty dare not be taken for granted

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, November 13, 2002

I'm writing this column on Remembrance Day (Veterans' Day, in the U.S.), a day on which we especially pay tribute to the many who have laid down their lives out of loyalty to their nation and to the principles of freedom. To them I dedicate this column as we continue the theme of loyalty.

Our first letter is from globetrotting intercultural communication specialist Jack Popjes:

INTERESTING discussion, this loyalty stuff. Since I believe in the existence of absolute truth, my view on loyalty in people is the same as my view on sharpness of knives. Sharp knives are wonderful when cutting apples for salad; sharp knives are horrible when cutting throats of people.

Loyalty, commitment, steadfastness and trustworthiness are wonderful in marriage and in relationships that are lined up with truth, but they are horrible in relationships lined up with error. Hitler's loyal troops in the extermination camps spring to mind.

—Jack Popjes, the Caribbean

IF LOYALTY is about commitment in relationships, then what about that special relationship within a church congregation, asks the previous rector of Cochrane's All Saints Anglican Church:

MY OWN TAKE on this issue is how members of a faith community, especially those who have built up a network of friendships and responsibilities for the well-being of that community, can either sneak away without a word as easily as they would change grocery stores, or even become careless about their responsibilities. On talking to some of these people some time after their defection, it becomes painfully clear that they are insensitive to the importance of their friendship and fellowship for other members of the community who feel very hurt by the disappearance of their friends.

—Derek Dunwoody, Victoria, B.C.

CAN THE LOYALTY of others be taken for granted? No, says a part-time student and writer who is currently looking after her 13-month-old grandson:

IF LOYALTY has become a rare quality, it may not be because so many people have become irretrievably self-serving, but because so many people who expect loyalty do nothing to deserve it.

Loyalty is like respect: it cannot be had merely for the asking. One has to earn it, to demonstrate that one is worthy of it. I have heard liars complain bitterly of their friends' disloyalty when their friends declined to confirm their lies. I have heard the representatives of businesses that provide shoddy goods and poor service complain as bitterly of the "lack of loyalty" in their customers. I have watched an employer fail to provide adequate training or compensation and then complain vociferously of the "lack of loyalty" in his employees.

It has become chic to lament the passing of the old-fashioned virtues. It is certainly easier to lament them than to display them. But anyone who complains of lack of loyalty – or respect or honesty or courtesy or any other of the "old-fashioned" virtues – should first ask themselves if their conduct deserved the response they expected. The answer, more often than not, will be that it didn't.

—Kim Jochem, Winnipeg

WHEN I CONTACTED Kim about her letter, she added the following postscript:

I SELDOM have time to respond to what I read, but the idea that loyalty is disappearing due to our increasing self-interest, to be quite frank, irritated me. My friends have my respect and my loyalty because they demonstrated time and again that they are people of intelligence, honesty, strength, tolerance and generosity. I am fortunate in them, and it seems only fair to them to point out that they have exactly what they've taught me they deserved – and that anyone who wants the same need only do the same.

WHICH LEADS quite nicely into letters I've received dealing with several other fundamental issues surrounding loyalty: loyalty to self, loyal companionship, and spiritual formation in loyalty. But more on these next week. In the meantime, have a look at Rob Reiner's 1986 movie Stand By Me.

© 2002 Warren Harbeck

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