“But it does not seem that I can trust anyone,’ said Frodo. Sam looked at him unhappily. ‘It all depends on what you want,’ put in Merry. ‘You can trust us to stick with you through thick and thin–to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours–closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
I’ve long struggled to find a great way to describe loyalty – what it is, how it is expressed, and why it is so important. I think my struggle came from trying to look at it in a vacuum — by itself it can be somewhat difficult to describe in great detail, or with a deep sense of purpose. However, by coupling it with friendship we can see it more clearly.
Loyalty is first and foremost about relationship. It’s a measure of quality and a test of strength in relationship. Look at the first quote from “The Fellowship of the Ring” — you can see the seriousness of the pledge and that it’s not made lightly. It’s also not a studious, rehearsed platitude — Merry speaks from his heart with passion.
Wouldn’t we all love to have relationships as richly blessed with true loyalty?
While searching, I found a book titled “Virtues of Friendship and Loyalty” authored by William Bennett. This text is a compilation of parables, folk tales and fables that highlight the virtues of friendship and loyalty. In the introduction, Mr. Bennett makes several well-reasoned points worth sharing:
“One of the most important things we give in any friendship is our loyalty, a trait that sometimes seems as though it needs to be placed on an endangered virtues list. Loyalty to family, to country, to community, to one’s company—we should not regard these as quaint, outmoded notions. In an age when people are told to “do what feels good” and “do your own thing,” the idea of loyalty reminds us that often we should be ready to look past our own needs and put someone or something else first. Loyalty, at bottom, means self-sacrifice, the kind of self-sacrifice that gives solid meaning to relationships.” [emphasis added]
A parable called “Damon and Pythias” from the fourth century BC illustrates how true friendship goes beyond platitudes and digs into practical loyalty and trust.
Here is a short synopsis of the story from Wikipedia:
Pythias and his friend Damon, both followers of the philosopher Pythagoras, traveled to Syracuse. Pythias was accused of plotting against the tyrant of Syracuse, Dionysius I. As punishment for this crime, Pythias was sentenced to death.
Accepting his sentence, Pythias asked to be allowed to return home one last time, to settle his affairs and bid his family farewell. Not wanting to be taken for a fool, the king refused, believing that once released, Pythias would flee and never return.
Damon asked the king to take his spot while he went. The king agreed, on the condition that, should Pythias not return when promised, Damon would be put to death in his place. Damon agreed, and Pythias was released.
Dionysius was convinced that Pythias would never return, and as the day Pythias promised to return came and went, Dionysius prepared to execute Damon. But just as the executioner was about to kill Damon, Pythias returned.
Apologizing to his friend for his delay, Pythias told of how pirates had captured his ship on the passage back to Syracuse and thrown him overboard. Dionysius listened to Pythias as he described how he swam to shore and made his way back to Syracuse as quickly as possible, arriving just in time to save his friend.
Dionysius was so pleased and astonished with their friendship that he pardoned them both.
Do we regularly encounter that kind or depth of loyalty in our friendships? Or are we more likely to encounter people who cancel a coffee break in order to buy lottery tickets when the odds are a couple million to one that they’d win?
Investing loyalty into friendship means re-balancing our other commitments and making time to demonstrate that we really care about our friends. This is why the scout law admonishes us to pick our friends very carefully and to give loyalty to whom loyalty is due. Disloyal, unclean, unkind, discourteous, untrustworthy friends are hardly able to be called “friends” are they?
Further on in the introduction to Mr. Bennett’s book, he says:
“Our loyalties, like our friendships, are important signs of the kinds of persons we have chosen to become. They mark a steadfastness in our attachments to other people, groups, institutions, or ideals. To be a loyal citizen or friend means to operate within a certain framework of caring seriously about the well-being of one’s country or comrade. Real loyalty endures inconvenience, withstands temptation, and does not cringe under assault. The trust that genuine loyalty generates can pervade our whole lives.”
Loyalty would seem to require a certain willingness to behave in a self-less manner when needed. The world around us promotes selfish behaviors and self-centered thinking – what should I do to be happy today, what can I do to make my teeth whiter (for appearance sake, not for fresher breath or to avoid gum disease)? Advertising proclaims that we should envision ourselves in luxury cars, eating premium foods and living premium (exclusive) lifestyles.
Which is right? Be happy in the moment at all costs? Be true to your ideals and sacrifice playthings and distractions for a healthier life?
Certainly, we must be ready to sacrifice in order to develop the kind of relationship bonds pledged by Merry to Frodo, or even from scout buddy to scout buddy. If we allow ourselves to be focused inward on our own needs and wants, we’d be poor friends.
What about our loyalty to ideals — ideals aren’t people, but our faith ideals do impart “relationship” — relationship with God.
Consider these quotes:
“Would to God we were all Christians who profess to be Christians, and that we lived up to what we profess. ” – Charles H. Spurgeon
“The messengers of Jesus will be hated to the end of time. They will be blamed for all the division which rend cities and homes. Jesus and his disciples will be condemned on all sides for undermining family life, and for leading the nation astray; they will be called crazy fanatics and disturbers of the peace. The disciples will be sorely tempted to desert their Lord. But the end is also near, and they must hold on and persevere until it comes. Only he will be blessed who remains loyal to Jesus and his word until the end.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
Duty to God requires relationship and therefore loyalty, too. I’ve heard it said that there are “believers” and then there are “followers” — “believing” is a spectator sport requiring very little, if any, true commitment. “Following” requires commitment and loyalty.
Sometimes it comes with great costs, too. If we follow a faith practice, then we must practice loyalty to its teachings and not allow or enable ourselves to “self-deceive” or try to remake our faith tenets into something easier to follow.
Matthew 16:24-27 (NASB) states;
“Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds.”
If you consider yourself to be a Christian, what are the potential costs or consequences of giving your loyalty — what are the potential costs for not being loyal? [Note: you don’t need to be a Christian to be a scout, but in our troop, our families do share a common faith practice so we often look to see how our faith ideals and scouting ideals may parallel each other].
Lastly, loyalty may also imply “obedience”. When we are faithfully obedient to our parents, our country, our God, we give them honor and respect, but we are also demonstrating loyalty to them through our relationship with them.
From the 1911 BSA Handbook:
- A Scout is Trustworthy. A Scout’s honor is to be trusted. If he were to violate his honor by telling a lie or by cheating or by not doing exactly a given task, when trusted on his honor, he may be directed to hand over his Scout Badge.
- A SCOUT is LOYAL. He is loyal to all to whom loyalty is due; his Scout Leader, his home and parents and country.
- A SCOUT is HELPFUL. He must be prepared at any time to save life, help injured persons, and share the home duties. He must do at least one good turn to somebody every day.
- A SCOUT is FRIENDLY. He is a friend to all and a brother to every other Scout.
- A SCOUT IS COURTEOUS. He is polite to all, especially to women, children, old people, and the weak and helpless. He must not take pay for being helpful or courteous.
- A SCOUT is KIND. He is a friend to animals. He will not kill nor hurt any living creature, needlessly, but will strive to save and protect all harmless life.
- A SCOUT IS OBEDIENT. He obeys his parents, Scoutmaster, patrol leader, and all other duly constituted authorities.
- A SCOUT IS CHEERFUL. He smiles whenever he can. His obedience to orders is prompt and cheery. He never shirks nor grumbles at hardships.
- A SCOUT is THRIFTY. He does not wantonly destroy property. He works faithfully, wastes nothing, and makes the best use of his opportunities. He saves his money so that he may pay his own way, be generous to those in need, and helpful to worthy objects. He may work for pay but must not receive tips for courtesies or good turns.
- A SCOUT is BRAVE. He has the courage to face danger in spite of fear, and to stand up for the right against the coaxing of friends or the jeers or threats of enemies; and defeat does not down him.
- A SCOUT IS CLEAN. He keeps clean in body and thought, stands for clean speech, clean sport, clean habits, and travels with a clean crowd.
- A SCOUT is REVERENT. He is reverent toward God. He is faithful in his religious duties, and respects the convictions of others in matters of custom and religion.