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We ignore 'archaic' loyalty at our own risk

June 27, 2009|By TIM ROWLAND

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So this is the new euphemism: Hiking on the Appalachian Trail.

"Hey, have you seen Lester?"

"Nah, he and the receptionist are out hiking on the Appalachian Trail." Wink, wink.

It really screws things up for those of us who actually get out and hike. You tell your wife that you're going out to log a few miles on the Appalachian Trail and she breaks down in tears.

With the revelations of U.S. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford over the space of a week, we're left to wonder what to make of it all, and if we should care.

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Maybe the Republicans' road to the White House is being based on a game of musical pants. Last one dressed wins the nomination.

The high-profile Democratic dominoes that have fallen in the throes of dalliance - Clinton, Edwards, Spitzer - demonstrate this is not a partisan issue. But what's more concerning is we have representative government. We send people to office who are like us. So does this mean ...?

This isn't a new problem, if a problem it is. We just hear more about it because back in the day, the media were more concerned with real news than who Jack Kennedy was catting around with.

Yet something today, or this decade anyway, seems different. No one is weeping for the Republicans this week because they were the ones who made family values into a political job qualification. But not even the wives seem to be weeping. The traditional, glassy-eyed-woman-at-his-side press conference has gone the way of elbow-length gloves. Instead, they issue statements through their publicists, which, at least, are less painful for the rest of us who are watching.

Elizabeth Edwards used the occasion to write a book. Jenny Sanford said she had kicked her husband out, but would take him back or, well, whatever. As for Sanford himself, his care wasn't that Jenny would find out, it was that voters would find out.

The missing thread through all this seems to be loyalty. Even Bill Clinton remained ferociously loyal to Hillary during her presidential run - perhaps as payback, but it seemed genuine enough.

But in today's scandals, loyalty has moved to the back of the bus in the name of political expediency, damage control and practicality - just as loyalty is simultaneously disappearing from other walks of life.

Perhaps it's folly to pine for the days when a young man or woman would go to work for "the power company" or "the truck plant" and be able to count on a lifetime of gainful employment and a solid retirement.

To most larger employers today, a decade or two of loyal service means nothing. If some dollars can be saved by moving jobs to more low-rent communities or overseas - or by replacing a worker at the top of the wage scale with a fellow right out of school - it's no decision at all. Sorry about the family and stuff, but good luck retraining as a dishwasher tech down at the local trade school.

Neither do employees hold much sense of loyalty. A slightly better job offer comes along and we'll consider a lot of pros and cons to the move. But how often does loyalty to the company that's been cutting the paycheck all these years come into consideration?

Young sports fans might be interested to learn there once was a time when you could root for a particular player on your favorite team without fearing he would sell out and play for the hated rival team the following season. Or the owner of a team might hang on to a favored player a year or two after his prime, just to honor his previous years of service.

It all seems so archaic, but loyalty used to matter.

Maybe loyalty is like a conscience, an old maid of an inconvenience that interferes with our ability to make the most money we possibly can make and have the most fun we possibly can have at any given moment.

But we ignore the deep roots of loyalty at our own risk because if we treat our relationships as disposable objects, we can't expect much in return when our time of need comes around, as it always does.

Every person is subject to fall at one time our another. It is our history, our record of loyalty, that will determine whether those we purport to cherish will offer up anything more meaningful than a prepared statement.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or by e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com. Tune in to the Rowland Rant video under opinion@herald-mail.com, on antpod.com or on Antietam Cable's WCL-TV Channel 30 at 6:30 p.m. New episodes are released every Wednesday.

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