All the hullabaloo lately about “loyalty” naturally begs the questions of WHEN to give loyalty and WHEN to withdraw it.
Good questions – important questions actually.
Many a career [or a life] has crashed and burned over the decisions made regarding the answers to either or both.
Abraham Lincoln however, gave us a great way to handle those questions.
During a talk about political choice to a crowd in Peoria, Illinois in 1854, Lincoln gave them – and future generations to come – this advice:
“Stand with anybody that stands RIGHT. Stand with him while he is right and PART with him when he goes wrong.”
That seems so simple. But does it work?
Lincoln’s advice, offered in the above quote, is a self-contained sequence of actions or mental processing. If performed in the proper way, it produces an output or decision.
In computer programming parlance today, we call that an algorithm.
Let’s see how this decision-making process of his works as an algorithm, and specific to Lincoln’s advice, we’ll call the output the “Loyalty Decision.”
The decision-making algorithm is a process that requires a list of precise steps to reach a conclusion. The correct order of these steps for processing the data [or facts] is always crucial to the output [or decision].
This is Lincoln’s advice broken down into the six processing steps necessary for his algorithm to reach a “Loyalty Decision:”
Step 1: Create a variable [or area of the brain] to store user’s input of facts [hereafter called “data”] about a person’s political stand or behavior.
Step 2: Clear variable of old data (facts).
Step 3: Enter the new input data about this person.
Step 4: Store input data in the variable.
Step 5: Is data input “right?” [or “wrong”] The computer [or person] evaluates a certain set of parameters to see if data (facts) meet those “if>then” specifications stipulated in the parameters.
Step 6: User makes a decision:
1. If Yes = End of processing [Stand by person.]
2. If No = Return to Step 2 for new input [Part with person or No decision.]
Of course, in Step 5, the key processors used for analyzing the input data [facts] for this decision-making algorithm of Lincoln’s won’t work correctly without some commonly accepted set of parameters for what’s considered “right” or “wrong.”
But that’s the catch with today’s politics isn’t it? There’s no set of commonly shared guidelines for what’s “right” or “wrong” anymore.
That means Lincoln’s “Loyalty Decision” algorithm doesn’t work the same for everyone.
Food for thought.
 “Peoria Speech, October 16, 1854.” Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. v.II:274.