Defining Loyalty


Gov. Mitt Romney and ‘blind trust,’ June 7, 2012. (http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com).

One of any number of concepts I’ve had trouble wrapping my head and heart around over the years has been loyalty. At least, what others in my life have defined as loyalty. For the most part, loyalty for the vast majority of these folk has meant surrounding themselves with yes-men and yes-women, to have people around them who’d prefer the method of going along to get along. True loyalty, of course, is more about supporting a person and their ideals, ideas, calling and purpose, and not just agreeing with their every word and deed, no matter the contradictions, no matter who it hurts.

I’ve seen it in my own life, so many times, in high school, college, grad school, academia, the nonprofit world, and in church. Over and over again, people who believe that leadership means everyone should fall in line and follow someone else’s vision, without question or contribution. It’s the ultimate form of American entitlement, the one thing that all people in authority — secular or spiritual — have in common in our society and culture.

Republican operative Ron Christie, the ultimate yes-man, November 9, 2010. (http://c-spanvideo.org). In public domain.

One example of this was my former boss Ken, who complained about what he claimed was my lack of loyalty to the New Voices Fellowship Program when I made the decision to move on to another position at the end of ’03. He talked about loyalty as if I was a feral dog who needed to be broken and tamed in order to be useful. I said that loyalty “isn’t just about the person, it’s about the work that needs to be done.”

But I’d go a step further than that now. Loyalty in the workplace requires not only the ability of two or more individuals to trust each others’ judgment and quality of work. It also requires a synergy of vision, a sense of purpose that obligates the people in question to provide transparency, constant communication and certainly criticism in the journey to make any vision a reality.

I remembered this a few years after moving on from New Voices, at an interview I had with the head of the Center of Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. He began with the question, “So how are you going to contribute to my vision of building the kind of world-class center that will attract the attention of scholarship everywhere?” The director lost me with his emphasis on “my vision.” I’m thinking, “I don’t know you, but somehow, I’m supposed to trust your vision purely because you say so. Are you kidding me? I’m to be loyal to you just because — you’re Black, you’re a decade older than me, you’re at an Ivy League university? Really?” To this day, that was the weirdest interview in which I’d ever been a part.

I saw this also at the church to which I’d been a member of the longest in my adult life, Covenant Church of Pittsburgh (which was in Wilkinsburg, by the way). From ’91 to ’97, I attended services, was part of the men’s choir, tutored high school students and went on retreats. I sometimes turned a blind eye to the occasional hypocrisy around sex, money and marriage in sermons versus what I actually witnessed.

One February ’97 Sunday after I finished a year’s worth of battles with my dissertation advisor Joe Trotter — another person who wanted my false sense of loyalty (see my “Running Interference” post from April ’11)  — I couldn’t take it at CCOP anymore. After a month-long drive to raise $250,000 above our normal tithes and offerings to buy a plot of land to build a megachurch in Monroeville, our pastor made an announcement and delivered a fiery sermon. The announcement was that God had told him to now up the ante to a three-million dollar campaign for money to build the church on this new property.

Man on a leash, June 12, 2010. (dtoy2009 via Flickr.com). In public domain.

Before I had time or faith to absorb that bit of information, my pastor delivered a forty-five minute sermon that blamed Wilkinsburg’s fifty-percent unemployment rate, gang violence and despair on “homosexuals and whoremongers.” I’d heard other statements and similar sermons like this before, but not for nearly an hour, not after an appeal to worshippers to give more than one-tenth of their gross income to CCOP for a new church.

I knew for a fact that some of my fellow CCOP members were giving as much as one-fifth of their disposable income already. I also knew that their were some CCOP members who were in the closet. To require loyalty to a vision without building a consensus on such, while also denigrating the very people from whom you demand loyalty was just downright disgusting to me. So I left CCOP, never to return.

This year’s presidential election cycle, particularly on the GOP/TPer side, seems to demand the same kind of blind loyalty that my former boss, potential boss, former dissertation advisor and former pastor all wanted from me or people like me. I learned a long time ago, though, that what people like Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan want isn’t loyalty. They want lap dogs, people willing to overlook their own interests in order to help them achieve theirs.

6 Responses to Defining Loyalty

  1. Inna Alanos says:

    Hmm… interesting that while you have all the correct ideas (at least as far as your work related examples and overall idea), yet your conclusion is 100% wrong since you start applying it to politocs.

    Let’s see…. who is expected to exibit the most loyalty… Could it be LGBT community, who have a slavish devotion to left wing and mostly Marxist-oriented politics, despite the fact that in any Big Government or Marxist-type (or both) state gays were treated orders of magnitude worse than in the most Bible-thumping corners of USA? I don’t recall gays being sent to labor camps in Texas for 8-15 even when sodomy was illegal (like they were in USSR or Cuba). Or to gas chambers like in Nazi germany. If you are talking about self interest, 100% LGBT people should vote for the most right wing person in general elecion, and for the most Tea Party person (or to be more specific: fiscally conservative small government, screw the social issues, which mostly are TP) in the Republican primary.

    Or may be African Americans, who vote for Obama **just because he is Black**? Or calling Blacks who are conservative all sorts of derogatory names because they don’t show blind loyalty to the party they “should be loyal to because they are black”? Please note that your only picture example on this post was Ron Christie. I don’t know anything about him, but I would bet a lot on the fact that you didn’t even remotely inquire WHY he holds the views that he does – he is labeled as “false loyalty, yes-man” just because he dares to support the “wrong” party for a minority person.

    or Jews, who slavishly vote for the party of “Hymietown” Jessie Jackson, Louis Farrakhan, and a bunch of equally antisemitic hard-left whites I don’t wanna bother googling now?

    I won’t even go into the wholly-unsupported and way wrong “overlook their own interests” in the last statement. Having close familiarity with the economic and political history of non-USA world in the last century, I can assure you that anyone who wants to live better would find it in their long term interest to support “right wing” politics. Too long to discuss in a comment, but I dare you name me more than 5 people among the poor who you knew your entire life who would seriously consider emigrating to USSR or Cuba.

    • It would behoove you to read more of my posts on this and other related issues, including Ron Christie, before responding with your political opinions. My post wasn’t simply my opinion. It was about both anecdotal examples and actual interpretation of evidence based on American history and recent American politics. Your broad-stroke treatment of various groups in American society merely demonstrates that you are operating at the level of an individual opinion based on your political leanings, and not based in history, facts or evidence.

      On the issue of the right-wing being the right one, last I checked my world history, leaning too far to the left or the right has led to totalitarianism in the far and recent past. Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway, Cuba, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, Taiwan, Indonesia, Iran, just to cover examples from the past 90 years. It is wrongheaded, to say the least, to somehow think that people don’t vote against their own interests out of a false sense of loyalty. It’s been happening in the US for over a 150 years.

      I could name five people from my high school class alone — some of whom consider themselves conservative — who now live abroad because of work issues and other issues (but I don’t name private citizens in my blog generally speaking).

      I appreciate your opinion, and your response to my post.

      • Inna Alanos says:

        “individual opinion based on your political leanings, and not based in history, facts or evidence”. Sorry, but your mistake – like most of left leaning people when talking about people with right wing opinions – is in assuming that specific order, and not considering that – as is the case with me, the political leaning fully and entirely derives from “studying history, facts and evidence”, not from being told something by people who already vote the same way. As a matter of fact, I get more harshly right – at least on emotional level – after bothering to read, say, Huffington comments section than after reading a random right wing blog :) ; and from remembering USSR or visiting a random NYC government office than hearing some right wing politician or personality speak.

        As far as your second paragraph, you are completely wrong about “right”, but through no fault of your own – the defnition of “right” is incredibly confused, broad and imprecise (even on the Wiki). This link: http://history.stackexchange.com/a/1104/332 – has a decent write up on the topic clarifying the terminology a bit. Suffice it to say that when I refer to “right wing”, there’s virtually zero in common in my definition compared to NSDAP Germany (yes, yes, we know large capitalists with personal connections prospered there. Same was true of Communist China except they were called “PLA generals” there). The heart and soul of modern right wing politics is opposition to large government, marxist economic policies, and unproven social change without regard to consequences – none of which 3 points were a hallmark of National **Socialist** party at all. I know it’s a staple of American intellectuals to call Nazis “right wing” merely because they hated communists, but they had a lot more in common in both politics and economics with KPSS than with Tea Party. This comes from someone who read BOTH of Mein Kampf, works of Lenin and Marx, AND actual Tea Party documents as opposed to their (mis)representations by the media.

        Chile might be a much better example than Germany (or non-Shah Iran) – unlike many others, it did indeed pursue in large part “right wing” policies, at least economics-wise. But note that – without trying to whitewash the evil that Pinochet did – the scope of his crimes was orders of magnitude below more left wing regimes. Doesn’t excuse him, of course, but makes him a poor counterexample of “left wing states are bad for you” statistically speaking.

        As far as 5 people from your high school – I most certainly didn’t mean for you to name them publically, but as an intellectual exercise for yourself. You used a very peculiar wording in your answer though: “who now live abroad”. Abroad could mean a lot of things, whereas my question expressly limited to what are universally considered socialist countries (pre-1990 USSR, Cuba, North Corea, pre-1990s China as random examples. NOT Thailand, Singapour, France or Sweden, where most US ex-pats go). Trust me, there were VERY few who wanted to actually go to USSR – every single US expat was treated like a big deal celebrity there, and there were very few.

      • Let’s get this one right. This blog post isn’t about left or right, or which one can be worse in its extreme. It’s about the difference between loyalty and being a yes-man or yes-woman. The reason I use Ron Christie as an example is because he defends even the most obvious circumstances of racism, sexism and homophobia as being the exact opposite of such. Period. Don’t believe me, watch his interviews and read his comments over the past 20 years like I have. Don’t believe me after that, then you’ve missed the point of my post.

        And, about my leanings. I don’t lean left, I am left, the world equivalent of a social/Christian Democrat. As a historian and educator, I’m not impressed by your examples of your research, as they’re a mile wide and two millimeters deep. We can go through each of my examples and your examples and find fault. But technically, we’re both incorrect. The main issue with governance isn’t so much ideological affiliation as much as it does with how much power citizens (and in many parts of the world/world history, militaries) have in confronting governments when they do truly become too powerful. Take China, for example. Whether Ming, Xing or Mao-ist (in your terminology, left or right), the reach of the government has always been huge, and the rights of citizens limited. Millions of people have died through oppression, repression and protest. Doesn’t seem to matter if an emperor or the Politburo is in charge.

        Your argument for a smaller government is a ridiculous one. We’re still the world’s only superpower and its largest economy (although we’re due to be #2 by 2016 or so). We’re 75 years too late to go back to the smaller government being proposed. If we as a country seriously try a truly smaller government, it will be the period before the New Deal all over again. What we need is a smarter government and governance, one that responds to ordinary Americans and not to every whim of the corporate and the rich elite.

        Again, all of this is besides the point, as my post wasn’t about political economy or ideology. We can agree to disagree in this case, if only because your comments on this topic aren’t relevant to 98 percent of what I wrote in my post.

  2. Inna Alanos says:

    “This blog post isn’t about left or right” – this would have been accurate… except for the last paragraph. (and if you read my original comment, that was precisely what I objected to – I have pretty much zero disagreement with the substance of what the post said before the last paragraph). You very explicitly stated that “particularly on the GOP/TPer side, seems to demand the same kind of blind loyalty”. Without bothering to either consider, or realize, or state, that the DNC/OWS side requires a just as much if not more loyalty.

    Re: China – I completely agree with everything you said, except the conclusion you draw. If the reach of large government is – as you admitted – the cause of suffering of millions Chinese throughout history (and the same can be said for Russians) – then large and strong government should be avoided like the plague it always proved to be – because eventually the worst dregs of humanity get to run that government. The power-hungry sociopaths, the thugs and the immoral career climbers.

    You hit the nail on the head – the difference which is fundamental is not the – as I previously noted – ill defined “left vs right”. There’s not much difference between Politbureau and an Emperor/Tzar. The major ideological divide is people who are for larger government, and people who are against larger government. If any label is even remotely accurate, it would be libertarians (possibly somewhat including classical liberals) vs. those opposing them.

    Also, it’s interesting that you call my argument ridiculous (and otherwise make snide comments about my knowledge), while making one of the most basic fallacies possible when trying to refute it. Yes, “We’re still the world’s only superpower” – but you state it as if it’s obvious there is a causation there. I would posit that we are “We’re still the world’s only superpower” **despite** the growth of government post-New-Deal, and likely, ONE of the reasons why we very soon won’t be, is that same growth of government. USA has a very unique geopolitical set of advantages, so the drag of a big government wasn’t as impactful in 1030s-1990s as it has been in, say, Russia. But implying that somehow, we are superpower BECAUSE of government size is (or that having smaller government would cause us to lose that status) is, to use your word, ridiculous.

    • When I said we can “agree to disagree,” that was my polite way of saying that I’m done with this conversation. From the beginning, you’ve been both rude and dogmatic about your thinking about political ideology and race. That’s not the basis for a conversation, that’s the basis for an argument, and not in any scholarly or rational sense. As far as my snide comments, I merely evaluated your sources, just as I’ve done for several thousands of students of history and education over the years. Don’t really care if you don’t like that, but then again, you brought this up in an earlier comment anyway. Again, thanks for reading and misinterpreting my blog and intentions.

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