THE BLOG

ADVICE 23: Loyalty, Jessup and 'A Few Good Men'

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Photo Credit: Brent Stoller

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PSA: I'm going on my honeymoon, so ADVICE is going on a very, very brief hiatus. The next installment will be published on Friday, June 17.

I hope/expect to return to a bunch of new questions, which you can submit via this Google form.

Don't forget me while I'm gone...

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(Questions have been modified for space and clarity.)

Loyalty does not seem to be prevalent in today's world when it comes to friendships, business, etc. Why do you think that is, and how can we make it better?
-- Blackbird; Springfield, MO

"We use words like honor; code; LOYALTY. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline."
-- Col. Nathan R. Jessup, United States Marine Corps

When I read the word "loyalty," I can't help reading it in Jack Nicholson's voice. It's a Pavlovian response. That's what happens when you watch A Few Good Men every time it pops up on the channel guide. If it's on, I'm in, and I'm not going anywhere until it's over.

Beyond its captivating drama, it's a movie that explores everything from right and wrong to the ghost of a dead father. And loyalty. It explores loyalty as much as any of the other stuff. Jessup sermonizes about it incessantly, and his charges justify their actions by citing an allegiance to their code: Unit -- Core -- G-d -- Country. Sir.

The irony, of course, is that Jessup practices anything but what he preaches. He (indirectly) kills a Marine and covers his own ass by blaming the murder on two of his subordinates. Acting as anything but a leader, he's loyal to no one but himself.

Sadly, as you pointed out, the same can often be said about today's world. I don't like making such sweeping statements, because not everybody is Col. Jessup. I'm lucky enough to have many loyal people in my life, and you can't scroll through Facebook without coming across some feel-good story of dedication and devotion.

But in too many instances, loyalty has gone the way of the dime bag of oregano (because the real stuff is now legal). Why? It's a tough question that requires tough answers, answers that I'm not smart enough to figure out or eloquently expound upon.

That said, that's not going to stop me from throwing out a random, what's-he-talking-about theory.

I'm sure most would ascribe our lack of loyalty to a combative culture that deifies ego and self-promotion, to a loss of values, a lack of role models and a spike in greed. And I would agree.

I would also assert these factors haven't come to fruition by themselves. Loyalty is about connection, and I believe its decline has paralleled -- and is symbolized by -- the rise of the very thing that should be bringing us closer together.

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The internet has been the defining creation/invention/advancement of my lifetime. It's created a true global community. Within a few minutes and a few clicks, I can schedule a tour guide for my trip abroad, catch up with my fifth-grade classmates and publish this post so that it appears on your computer screen. The world has never been more connected.

But as with any creation/invention/advancement, there's an upside and downside, a give and take that results in unintended consequences. I can buy anything on Amazon, which allows hackers to (potentially) capture my credit card, for instance.

And when it comes to loyalty, I believe the internet has fostered two such consequences. On the surface, neither seems like a bad thing. But as Isaac Newton says, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

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The internet offers choice. In his standup special, Bigger and Blacker -- another 90s classic -- Chris Rock explains the Bill Clinton sex scandal with this pearl of wisdom: A man is only as faithful as his options. In other words, the more options a man has, the less loyal he becomes.

And if the internet has given us anything, it's options. Lots of them. And easy access to them. New jobs, new relationships, new side pieces -- they're all available at the touch of a button, just waiting for us. We aren't loyal because we don't have to be.

Granted, loyalty is a virtue, not something done out of necessity. We ideally remain loyal because it's the right thing to do, not because we have nothing else to do.

Still, there's that whole grass-is-always-greener thing, that obsession with the new and different, and the more opportunity we have to find it, the more opportunity we have to give into its temptation.

The internet provides an avenue to individuality. The childhood bedroom was the precursor to the online profile. Our favorite pictures got thumbtacked to a bulletin board, and our deepest thoughts got jotted in the journal on our nightstand. And the only way anyone else experienced it was if we knew them well enough to invite them over.

Not anymore. With sites like Facebook, Twitter and others, everything's gone virtual, and there are no bounds to our broadcast radius. We can log in and build our own brand, one follower and "friend" at a time.

At first glance, these sites look like the large social networks that they are, platforms where people come together. But they also are a collection of one-person islands, each of which is fighting for its own piece of the sun.

Don't get me wrong... there's a lot of good to this. As a writer, these outlets make it much, much easier to get noticed and build an audience, and for that I am appreciative.

But I also think that they've made narcissism more convenient. And narcissism and loyalty don't mix. This self(ie)-centric mindset has trickled down throughout the culture, making it that much easier to prioritize our own wants and needs above anything else, regardless of consequence or who might get hurt.

I realize this all sounds preachy and pompous, kind of like Col. Jessup, but I swear that's not my intent. As for how we can make things better, I don't think it's that complicated. You want more loyalty in the world? Be loyal yourself.

Because if we all do that enough, for long enough, it should eventually add up to a new truth that we can handle.

COMING FRIDAY, JUNE 17: Love Doesn't Make Sense

Need more ADVICE? Check out the most recent installments:

ADVICE 22: The Two-Pronged Approach to Handling Stress

ADVICE 21: The Pitfalls of Infatuation

ADVICE 20: Friends With Benefits -- With a Twist

ADVICE 19: On Regret

ADVICE 18: Adventures in Babysitting

ADVICE 17: Can My One-Night Stand Become Something More?

To send in a question, please complete this short Google form. All submissions are anonymous, even to the author.