Measuring loyalties

Loyalty imparts value in both the menial and significant actions of daily living. I've understood this for a long time. But I had no idea until last week loyalties also cause a lot of tension. And, sometimes, they force you to choose between a ridiculous amount of competing allegiances.

In my Media Ethics class we addressed the philosophical roots of loyalty within a business that prides itself in selling "truth." The business is communication. The divisions contrasted in analysis were journalism and public relations.

Building off of philosopher Plato's ideal loyalty being to divinely inspired truth and theologian Josiah Royce's theory imparting loyalty on a conscience as a single guiding principle, the assigned class reading designates loyalty in a general sense to be the first and last concept challenged when making any professional or personal ethical decision.

I was challenged to determine where my loyalties lie and if they check out with each other. 

In the textbook (Media Ethics: Issues and Cases, eighth edition) we pulled our class reading from, one author (William F. May) breaks down the ideals of occupational loyalty into four types. So, for my own analysis, I chose to broaden the loyalties through a personal lens and divide them into almost identical types.

The types include: 

  1. Loyalties to humanity
  2. Loyalties to Christian influences
  3. Loyalties to professional practices
  4. Loyalties to employers

Each type has a general set of values attached to them which determine how well I can meet the expectations of loyalty. Since values naturally imply a willingness to sacrifice something to preserve them, conflict arises from an inherent act of prioritizing some over others.

May suggests loyalty to humanity requires I respect individuals, communicate well, and be compassionate. Loyalty to professional practices requires I reflect through public behavior the mission statements of the organizations I work for, respect positions of authority or power, and meet the needs of our audience or consumers. Loyalty to employers requires I match contractual agreements, do not abuse their trust, do not abuse the public's trust, and enforce policies which unify or promote community.

Now, May doesn't have anything to say about Christianity. However, my own understanding of scripture suggests loyalty to Christian influences requires me to have faith in divinely inspired truth, use my faith to develop compassion for all people, and live in a manner where my character is sanctified through the pursuit of a life reflecting purity or wholesomeness in the present. 

None of the requirements for any of these loyalties seem like they would conflict in a general sense. But, once I begin to engage in case by case scenarios, conflict becomes more clear.

For example, the quantity and environment in which I consume alcohol could pose a problem. Some of my employers encourage the consumption of alcohol. It's almost a work requirement to be a responsible drinker so you're aware of what is being sold, promoted, or discussed in all professional settings. However, other employers discourage the consumption of alcohol because of clear ethical violations in their professional policies that could result from over-consumption or tarnish the public's trust in the organizations.

For another example, as a journalist and public relations student, one specialization requires the pursuit of a less favorable definitive truth while the other requires a pursuit of a more favorable relative truth. The truth is the same, but the pursuit and publication of the truth reveals conflicts when the specializations collide.

In the first example given, each instance I consume alcohol either publicly or privately, I have to weigh my loyalties and determine whether there is a compromise or if I desire to choose some values over others. My decisions have a significant outcome.

In the second example given, I need to first make clear which specialization my loyalties lie, then begin to weigh them.

In the Media Ethics textbook, a useful diagram is provided to help with these decisions. Theologian Ralph Potter developed four steps for making ethical decision. They are, "(1) understanding the morally relevant facts, (2) outlining the values inherent in the decision, (3) applying relevant philosophical principles, and (4) articulating a loyalty."

The end goal with using this diagram is to feel comfortable with your decision, be capable of substantiating it with articulate claims, and possibly inspire similar loyalties in others. 

Now I have determined where my loyalties lie. Making decisions in the future will be much simpler and, thankfully, more substantial. Hopefully, inspiration lies somewhere there.

Lance Lijewski