“par·a·dox” –perəˌdäks – a situation, person, or thing that combines contradictory features or qualities.
I listened to a speaker today talk about his father who was a Jewish prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. He talked about how his father and a German guard became friends over their interest in fishing.
One day the guard told him he was having troubles with his bowels and to go to the bathroom immediately. The speaker’s father was confused but listened, went to the bathroom and came out several minutes later to find all the other Jewish prisoners had been taken to one of the notorious gas chambers the Germans used to kill millions of Jewish people. His friend, the guard, upon seeing him said; “You are the only Jew left. You should leave. The speaker’s father walked out of the camp and went back to his home. “This is a paradox,” said the speaker. The German guard knew the other Jewish people, human beings, placed on the train were going to die but still chose to save his friend.
Human beings are walking, talking, breathing, skin encased paradoxes. We are tough to figure out. We do what we don’t want to do sometimes and don’t do what we should. We take stands for things which don’t really matter and shrink from the spotlight on the most important. Brennan Manning, one of my favorite authors, wrote; “I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.” He was a priest, an oblate, and a recovering alcoholic.
We are all paradoxes and have that in common with one another. There are a plethora of beliefs, convictions, and certainties we hold that unite us and divide us. However, we are also, every one of us, human beings and this truth should overcome everything else.
Last night I watched the movie; “Legend” about two brothers who were London gangsters in the 1960s. The titular roles were both played by Tom Hardy in an excellent performance.
The theme of the movie was the bond between a smart business minded brother Reggie and his schizophrenic sibling Ron. Throughout the film Reggie’s attempt to climb the ladder of the underworld and become, possibly, a legitimately respected businessman was constantly being thwarted by his mentally unstable brother. The movie ends with a disturbing scene in which Reggie kills a low life extortionist in front of Ron and when Ron asks why he did it. Reggie’s response was; “Because I can’t kill you.”
Loyalty is almost always a laudable virtue. We want to be the type of people who stick by our family and friends. We long to be seen as ones who are there for others no matter what, in thick and thin, whatever the costs, no sacrifice too big. As desirous a trait this seems, there are times when loyalty can be detrimental and disastrous. If our loyalty violates our principles, puts us in situations which keeps us from our purpose, stops us from being who we’re called to be, and should be, then our loyalty is misplaced.
I tell the men I work with, who are suffering from the disease of addiction or incarcerated, that one of the hardest choices they’ll make in their new lives is deciding which friends, family, associates they can no longer be around. They will need to make a conscious decision of who will and who wont walk with them on the right path. Even folks who have been loyal to them; if these people are harmful influences in their lives, have to go.
Loyalty is part of a desirable character but when loyalty to others means we are disloyal to ourselves a new way of thinking and being is required.