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This has been a post for a while in the making. I’m not sure when the idea first struck me, but I’ve been playing around with it in my head and have come to no conclusions.  So I’ll present my thoughts and confusion to you and ask for your views.

The question is simple: is loyalty overrated as a virtue?

At the risk of offending many, my first instinct is to say, ‘Yes, it is.’

We’ve all heard the tales of loyalty – and marveled at people who gave their all for their family, their religion, their country or whatever cause they were dedicated to. They have filled us with awe and deep within we’re always trying to live up to these men and women – often falling short.

But I begin to wonder if loyalty is all it is made out to be when I see Sanjay Dutt’s family having to put up with his bad choices time and again. His sister, Priya, seems to have taken on the mantle being his defender from her parents, often at the cost of losing her own dignity.

I have seen people tolerating insults, put downs and being used in the name of loyalty. I know that I have tolerated a lot of them in my own life in the name of loyalty to my friends. Then there are parents who through various ways, subtle and overt, try to control the behavior and choices of their children. The children, even after they’re grown, find it hard to see this controlling behavior for what it is. After all, they have learnt that loyalty to their parents is paramount.

When it’s a toss up between truth and loyalty – we see that loyalty seems to win at the cost of truth. History is full of examples of employees covering up for bosses, wives covering up for husbands, children becoming the victims of ‘family secrets’ that have to be kept in the name of loyalty. Loyalty to religion and religious figures leads people to tolerate terrible abuse. Loyalty to country often sees thousands being used as cannon fodder by governments who are at best misguided or power hungry at worst. The list of the victims of loyalty seem to be endless.

In Thus Spoke Zarathustra Nietzsche tells us that: “Society tames the wolf into a dog. And man is the most domesticated animal of all.” Could it be that loyalty is a form of social conditioning that keeps us from being completely true to ourselves?

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