Thursday, December 6, 2007

HP and Loyalty

One last comment on Harry Potter...

One of the primary themes in Harry Potter is family loyalty. In fact, the books are full of examples, both good and bad, of what it means to be loyal to one's family.

The Malfoys and other "pure bloods" are trying to be loyal to their family - but their loyalty is neither admirable nor right. Sirius Black, whose family also emphasized pure blood, demonstrates a better kind of loyalty - loyalty to the right, also known as integrity. He is fiercely loyal to Harry, his godson, and many other grownups who knew Harry's dad decide to help Harry out of loyalty to him and their old friendship, which is undiminished by James Potter's death.

The Weasleys' family loyalty is basically the inverse of the Malfoys' - they are rightly loyal to each other... and even to the brother (Percy?) who becomes a bit of a snob.

As I've said before, loyalty is an overrated and misunderstood virtue. To explain, here's an excerpt from an article I wrote on the topic:

When I say loyalty is an overrated virtue, that's only because loyalty is worse than worthless when it is divorced from deeper virtues like integrity and discernment. Loyalty is all fine and good if it is freely given to the right person (for example, a spouse or a diety), but demands for unquestioning, unequivocal, mindless loyalty are inappropriate and can lead to serious ethical breakdowns. Actually, just about any demand for loyalty is rather problematic. That's because loyalty is only good if it is freely and deliberately given, in a manner that does not violate one’s integrity.

Here's the thing - loyalty says a lot more about the recipient than the giver, which is probably why bosses and people in authority like to talk about it so much. From the stand point of the person who exhibits loyalty, we've got to ask some rather pointed questions.

So let's take a Nazi as a "boundary condition" example. A Nazi soldier could certainly exhibit an admirable degree of physical strength, courage or ingenuity (and many did). That is, we can wistfully say "Wow, I wish I was as clever as him" or "He sure is tough." But the loyalty exhibited by Nazi soldiers was wholly despicable, because it was given to a murderous madman.

Yes, loyalty can be a very, very good thing… but only if you exercise considerable discernment about the person or entity to whom you give it. When loyalty and integrity conflict, as they sometimes do, integrity must prevail.

The late Col John Boyd used to advise junior officers "If your boss asks for loyalty, give him integrity. If he asks for integrity, give him loyalty." That's a darn good rule of thumb, because it indicates loyalty to truth, justice and the American way, rather than loyalty to some guy.

1 comment:

dad said...

Hi Dan: amen to everything you wrote... good job....and you spoke from the heart..... integrity: being honest to yourself; loyalty: being honest to someone else..... Dad