It’s a funny old thing, loyalty. The dictionary definition is 1) to be “true or faithful (to duty, love, obligation) 2) steadfast in allegiance; devoted to one’s sovereign or government.” I would say of myself that I was a loyal person; I’m not unfaithful to lovers/partners, try never to mess my friends around, have never knowingly been out with a married/engaged/in a relationship man and try to live my life with integrity as I understand it. But when it comes to loyalty to my country I’m not sure I am, if loyalty means overlooking it’s faults, dodgy deals, corruption etc. I’m not a royalist, even though I think the immediate royal family work hard and probably bring a lot of money into the country through tourism. However, I do feel extremely privileged to live in a country where I can air these views, openly complain to my MP, sign petitions, vote for whomever I want, and belong to a trade union. But would I die for my sovereign or government? Highly unlikely. Does that make me disloyal? Probably.
So what is it I would swear allegiance to and die for if called upon? Martin Luther King said,
“If a man hasn’t discovered something he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.” (Speech in Detroit 23 June 1963)
What drives other people to give their lives up for principles, to sacrifice themselves for ideas, to suffer for the greater good of others they have never met? I don’t know and I would really like to. However, I don’t think many of us know how we’d behave/react in emergencies unless we’ve been there.
Quite a few years ago I went on holiday to France with a friend. She had just had her car’s exhaust fixed but on the third day the car started making a really loud banging noise. We were almost back to the gite so we carried on driving till we got there. I went inside to start preparing the meal and Marg jacked the car up and got underneath to see if the exhaust had come loose. It didn’t appear to have anything wrong with it so she called for me to come out and turn the ignition on. Instead of climbing into the car I leaned in through the window, without checking if it was in gear, and turned the ignition. Unfortunately it was in gear and shot off the jack, trapping Marg underneath. In seconds I had the car lifted and not only carried it off her, but also away from her. She’d had the sense to cover her face with her arms so there was no damage done other than to her cardigan, and of course we were both in shock. I couldn’t believe I’d lifted the car and carried it so far on just 2 wheels – it was a Hulk moment I’ll never forget. So who knows what I’d really do if faced with a life or death situation?
When I was twelve years old my cousin, who was ten, drowned. He’d been playing on rocks underneath the pier in his home town and had been blown off them by gales. He could swim a little bit in a pool but those waves were a different matter.On top of that he suffered from asthma and it’s believed he had an attack in the water. His friend who was thirteen and couldn’t swim jumped in without hesitation and tried to help him. Both drowned. If you asked me in the comfort of my own home if I would do that I’d say no, but how can you stand by and watch someone drown without trying to do something to help? I think it’s just human nature and is why so many people lose their lives trying to help others.
So what has this to do with loyalty? For me loyalty has nothing to do with country I was born in, although I acknowledge that I owe a huge debt to the place. I believe it’s more to do with being loyal to yourself, to your principles and, ultimately, to your humanity. You don’t have to be a frontline soldier, police officer, fire-fighter, doctor, nurse or whatever to help others. You don’t have to be a Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Humanist, Pagan, or have connections to the ‘other’ in order to do the right thing. Sometimes the right thing will be overcoming your fear to help someone who has been attacked, or contacting children’s services when you think a neigbour’s child is being abused, or standing up for someone you don’t like when they’re being unjustly treated.
In TheImpossible Ewan MacGregor’s character cannot find his wife and one of his sons in the Boxing Day tsunami. His two other sons are alive but later he’s separated from them. An American and his wife who obviously have escaped the water, haven’t been injured, or lost anything/one, are well dressed, suitcases packed and are phoning to arrange to get home. MacGregor asks the guy if he can phone home and the guy refuses. Later MacGregor meets another man; this one can’t find his wife or two-year old daughter and he’s been saving the battery on his phone in case they try to contact him. But when this guy sees MacGregor’s suffering he gives him the phone and even tells him to call back when MacGregor cuts the call short so as to save the man’s battery.
Adversity brings out the good and bad in people and we never know how we’ll react until we’re in a situation. No amount of thinking and theorizing will ever really prepare us for the unexpected and I hope that if I’m ever tested that I’ll be loyal to myself and try to do the right thing, whatever the cost. If I didn’t, the cost to myself would be too great a thing to bear.