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Is Loyalty a Virtue?

— By: Farah Khalid

Loyalty is defined as having complete and constant support for someone or something. We, as college students come across various situations where we have a categorical participation. Often we have mass bunks, protests and other group activities. Is supporting or being unconditionally loyal to such groups really a virtue?

Loyalty towards one’s friends and family can be a noble thing. In fact, there is far too little of it in our “me first” society. It is a wonderful feeling to have someone, who will stick with you through thick and thin; one that you can count on during tough as well as good times. But very often, we are expected to display loyalty to our friends, family, workplace colleagues, religion or politics without using our own judgment, just because we ‘belong’ with them.

We often notice that many amongst an agitating group do not even understand the basic principle that they are fighting for. Use of intellect and adherence to truth are expected to take a backseat when it comes to standing up for those we owe our allegiance to. We all go for broke when a mass bunk is decided. But there may be one or two amongst us who go against the group and attend class, because they do not consider it right. What next, the whole class calls them disloyal.

Our friend may have an argument with someone, and we know that the other one has a valid point. In that case, would we raise an objection and risk being considered disloyal? There are many such situations in our everyday life when truth and loyalty are in conflict. Who are our better friends? Those who respect and cherish us because we live up to important standards and principles or those people who uncritically approve of us no matter how mercurial our behaviour may be.

Blind faith or loyalty in a dog is a laudable virtue, but when it comes to human beings, it becomes a questionable one.

A loyal friend does not help you do things that will harm you in the long run. A helpful employee does not cheer you on as you make a stupid mistake. I do not believe in unconditionally sticking with someone through thick and thin. If my brother started murdering people, I would call the police. Being loyal to someone does not mean closing your eyes to their faults, it means keeping their well-being and best interests at heart. Loyalty should not mean blind faith, it should mean an on-going reality check, not just for our own benefit, but also for the benefit of those we profess loyalty towards. The term “loyalty” often carries with it the connotation that it is unconditional. For this reason, loyalty is an overrated and sometimes dangerous virtue. Extreme of anything is harmful, so is unconditional loyalty. Some time or the other, it will lead you to trouble.

The very concept of loyalty is bound to entail commitments that are conditional. When truth and loyalty are in conflict, we should have the wisdom and the courage to decide what to do. Loyalty should be conditional, based on our own set of values. It should not trump independent moral judgment. A consciousness of this would give one the courage to stand up against the prevailing misguided opinions in groups. Silence can also be looked upon as complicity if we quietly go along with something we do not believe in.

In today’s time, absolute loyalty is not practical, it should be provisional. People should have the ability to decide where they have to showcase unconditional loyalty and where they have to be careful.

To sum up, loyalty can indeed be a high virtue, particularly when it comes to protecting family and friends from harm. But loyalty can also sometimes prevent us from seeing the truth, a truth that runs counter to the established opinions of our in-group. Loyalty is only a conditional virtue and can be a powerful force that prevents us from taking an unpopular stand against the misguided views of our family and friends.

Loyalty should not be overpowering your values and ethics. Loyalty must be tempered with truth and intelligence. It should not be confused with obedience or adherence, but should be looked upon more as a feeling, an emotion, a bonding with someone for whose benefit you are prepared to go to great lengths.


[Note: This article by Farah Khalid was first published in Fiction (2014), the annual student magazine published by the Computer Society of India – Jamia Millia Islamia (Students’ Chapter). It has been reproduced here with their permission.]

[Note to Department Magazine Editors: Just like Fiction, share your magazine articles with Jamia Journal. Send them to [email protected]

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