I teach my students that loyalty is "faithfulness to people, places and principles." But Donald Trump's presidency raised fresh questions about what it means to be loyal—and what to do when loyalty to a person conflicts with loyalty to a principle. He consistently defined loyalty to mean an unquestioning willingness to pursue his personal goals even when doing so violated ethics, law or democratic principles. Mike Pence was widely considered the paragon of loyalty for four years. But Trump now scorns him as disloyal for his refusal to prevent the certification of Joe Biden’s election victory.
But I would argue that true loyalty requires his friends and followers not to blindly support his misguided behavior but instead to guide him and help him to see the right path. Loyalty, in my view, requires blunt honesty: you must be willing to tell the person to whom you are loyal that they are making the wrong decision. Loyalty is not sycophancy. The people who challenged Trump to do better, who pushed back against his worst impulses, showed their loyalty—not just to Trump, but to the principle of democracy.
Thanksgiving has long been my favorite holiday. In my experience, the celebration of Thanksgiving has always been focused entirely on two things: family and gratitude. It is not centered around receiving presents, but instead around appreciating the present.
We learn as children that gratitude is an act of courtesy, something we owe to others when they do something for us. And that is true, and essential. We should ensure that people know we appreciate them. As instructors, we know that when we thank our students for their effort, they not only feel valued but they also are motivated to repeat their behavior.
But we now know that gratitude benefits us at least as much as the person we are thanking. With so much of modern corporate and popular culture dedicated to reminding us of all that we lack, cultivating a habit of gratitude is a form of meditation: it enables us to maintain an awareness of what we already have.