On Loyalty

06 Oct

If I were writing myself into a Greek play, my tragic flaw could well be loyalty.

Jon Tumilson, a Navy SEAL, was one of 30 Americans killed in Afghanistan on Aug. 6 when a rocket-propelled grenade took out a U.S. Chinook helicopter. He was mourned at a service in Rockford, Iowa, attended by 1,500 family members, friends--and Hawkeye, Tumilson's dog.

Am I loyal to a fault?

A while back, The Diane Rehm Show featured Eric Felten, writer of the culture column “Postmodern Times” for The Wall Street Journal. (I would link to his column, but apparently the web person at the WSJ isn’t smart enough to provide a convenient link to all of his columns.) His new book, Loyalty: The Vexing Virtue sounds like an interesting read. One of his conjectures it that even in those instances where loyalty is justified, it often leads to conflict.

Is loyalty a bygone virtue, like chivalry? After all, no one retires from a company with a gold watch. Hell, I think in a very short time anyone retiring of their own accord after 50 years of service from the only company they have ever worked for might make national news.

Unless they happen to have been elected to Congress.

In this cynical world, can we still be loyal? Or do we inevitably end up feeling like cloying romantics, clinging intently to any shred of sentimentality of ideals that remind of us of our once bright-eyed days?

I think a lot about Indianapolis sports fans when I muse about loyalty. For a self-proclaimed “sports town,” we sure have some fair-weather fans. Anyone remember the Pacers? True—or maybe I should say “TruWarier“?—the antics of the team in the middle Aughts did a lot to drive away fans.

Now that Colts fans face a season without future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning, will we soon return to the days where we’ll have to beg fans to meet the attendance number so the game isn’t blacked out?

When Bob Irsay stole the Colts from Baltimore and whisked them to Indy via Mayflower trucks in the middle of the night, my dad bought season tickets. He finally gave up his Purdue season tickets out of frustration. As a non-alumnus, the University gave him worse seats each season he had them. Talk about loyalty.

A small group of DePauw fans remains in the end zone bleachers during the fourth quarter of the 47-0 loss to Wabash College Saturday at Hollett Little Giant Stadium in Crawfordsville, Ind. MARGARET DISTLER/THE DEPAUW

For the three or four games he’d take my brother and me to, I witnessed our fans, Colts fans. The majority came to the game straight from church, still in their Sunday finest. They would sit politely for three quarters and then file for the exits at the start of the fourth. At this point, the two lubricated guys sitting behind us would start chanting, “Oh, ye of little faith!”

Yes, the new Indianapolis Colts were terrible back then. At one point, our best offense was Rohn Stark…the punter.

So the team’s recent travails will truly test the mettle of our current crop of fans who insist on wearing their jerseys to work on Fridays like it’s Homecoming week back at Carmel High School.

I have to give it to the Detroit Lions. 4-0 and their stalwart fans deserve to relish in some success.

Maybe I can trace my recent crisis of faith to my longtime love of the Chicago Cubs. I mean, when you give up on your team in late June, just how loyal a fan are you? 103 year without a trip to the World Series, and “Wait ’til next year” loses its luster. At some point, you start feeling like an Old Style swilling yutz out there in the bleachers.

I’m also wary of any company any more that waves the chestnut: “We’re just like one big family.” It seems like some companies use loyalty as a salve to assuage the sting of longer hours, doing the work of two other departed employees, or the bonus that never comes.

Companies should be more realistic about loyalty. No, strike that. Employees should be more realistic about loyalty. When the company I worked for in 2001 downsized me, the very helpful woman with the outplacement firm—who my former company hired to “transition” us—said that “you should be loyal to your career, not to your employer.”

I’ll keep that in mind.

The bottom line: Yes, it’s good to be loyal. It’s a noble virtue. Just don’t be a yutz about it.

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Posted by on October 6, 2011 in Standup Philospher


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