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When Loyalty Trumps Truth: While Lying is Unethical, You Can be a Hero if You Buy into the Lies and

At my oldest daughter’s sweet sixteenth birthday party, I organized a dance contest. I believed my daughter was a great dancer and expected to name her the winner with an appropriate prize. But unbeknownst to me, one of her friends was a professional dancer who blew everyone away? I found myself in a quandary trying to balance loyalty to my daughter and fairness to the competitor (and the contest) and decided to be honest at the expense of my daughter’s feelings. I am not sure my daughter ever forgave me and I have carried guilt about it to this day.

In the motorcycle communities in the 70’s, there used to be this sentiment that if you couldn’t “ride” with your crew then you would just as soon die. In this cold world, there ought to be a few people in our inner circle who are our “ride or die” comrades.

In spite of the fact that Rahab was an immoral woman (a prostitute), she is one of only two women honored in Hebrews 11 as faithful and Joshua and the victorious Hebrews after her people were defeated and the walls of Jericho came tumbling down. She received this consideration because she betrayed her own people and lied. When the soldiers of Jericho were searching high and low for the Hebrew spies, she convinced her entire family to protect the spies and told the soldiers that the spies they were seeking had left the night before when in fact she was hiding them on her roof.

In the book: “Harboring fugitive Family Members” by Jennifer Collins, et al, they explore how the law treats people who lie to protect a family member. What should the prosecutor do when the person hiding the bank robber is the Chief of Police and the fugitive is his son?

When I read “King Lear” (Shakespeare) I identified with Cordelia. When his grown children are heaping empty praise on him, angling for favorable consideration in his will, she alone speaks frankly. “Yes, of course I love and honor you, but all the better because there’s honesty in it. Why are you impressed with the exaggeration and lies?” Now, I have to admit it, I empathize with the old fool. Is it so much to ask for people who love me to cushion the indignities of age with a little fanfare? Tell me I’m the greatest. What would it hurt?

I once read a newspaper story from a distant country where loyalty to family was a high value, so when the Judge found his sister guilty of a crime for which there were ample evidence, the entire community ostracized him (including the victims of his sister’s crimes) for disloyalty to his family. “How could you send your own sister to prison?”

On the show “Sports Night,” Felicity Huffman’s character is a sports journalist whose brother is an up-and-coming baller. When her news team catches him doping, she is devastated. He has compromised her by association. In the end, he does come clean about the steroids, but she also chooses to stand with him as he seeks redemption. This is, I believe, the American work-around on questions of loyalty. Show “tough love” to our loved ones who err. Fight with them “on the side of their better angels.” Huffman suffered mightily when she engaged in an elaborate web of lies to try to get her child into a college program. She might well have heeded the moral lesson of her fictional character.

Do you tell the truth and risk alienation from those you love or preserve your relationships by lying? Our “tribe”, however you want to define them, demands loyalty, but often, loyalty requires deceit by pretending to believe something you know is a lie or overlooking a friend’s bad behavior.

Out of loyalty, would you be willing to continue working for an employer who treat customers unkindly or even place the lives of others at risk with unsafe products such as oxycodone? Do you help to hide a politician’s secret payments under the table because he does favors for you? Do you go along with it when the coach of your team cheats to win the big game? Do you subscribe to the principle that those I love can do no wrong, those I hate can do no right?

Suppose a grown son witnessed his father committing a heinous murder and the father says: “If you are not with me all the way, you are against me. Loyalty isn’t grey. It’s black and white. If you are loyal, it means you are willing to side with me, lie for me, stand up for me and accept my version of the truth. If we are kin, you are willing to do whatever is necessary for your family. Son, we all do bad things and we depend on family and friends to get out of these situations by any means necessary. Our strength is in our loyalty to each other. You have a moral imperative to act in the best interests of your family. By not lying, you will pay a terrible price because you will forever have the reputation of being a snitch and I, for one, will never speak to you again. If you crack and go against me, it won’t be long before you will need one of us to lie and do what is necessary to save your ass. When it comes down to protecting your family, loyalty trumps everything. Can I count on you?”

Does that sound familiar? Could your conscience live with that rule? Does loyalty always trump truth and honesty? Would your response be: “Dad, Loyalty to an unjust cause is a perversion that I am NOT willing to live with?” What if the son had seen his father with another woman? To whom should the son’s loyalty be entrusted?

“Loyalty to the family must be merged into loyalty to the community, loyalty to the community into loyalty to the nation, and loyalty to the nation into loyalty to mankind. The citizen of the future must be a citizen of the world.” – Thomas Cochrane

While loyalty is important, there must be a line you are unwilling to cross. I trust that Thomaston is a forward-looking city where kindness, truth, inclusiveness and respect for each other prevail---even when there is a price to be paid.

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