“Imagine this: some morning we awake to the cultural consensus that a family, however else defined, is a sort of compact of mutual loyalty, organized around the hope of giving rich, human meaning to the lives of its members. Toward this end they do what people do—play with their babies, comfort their sick, keep their holidays, commemorate their occasions, sing songs, tell jokes, fight and reconcile, teach and learn what they know about what is right and wrong, about what is beautiful and what is to be valued. They enjoy each other and make themselves enjoyable. They are kind and receive kindness, they are generous and are sustained and enriched by others’ generosity. The antidote to fear, distrust, self-interest is always loyalty. The balm for failure or weakness, or even for disloyalty, is always loyalty.
This is utopian. And yet. Certainly it describes something of which many of us feel deprived. We have reasoned our way to uniformly conditional relationships. This is at the very center of the crisis of the family, since the word means, if it means anything, that certain people exist on special terms with each other, which terms are more or less unconditional. We have instead decided to respect our parents, maybe, if they meet our stringent standards of deserving. Just so do our children respect us, maybe.
Siblings founder, spouses age. We founder. We age. That is when loyalty should matter. But invoking it now is about as potent a gesture as flashing a fat roll of rubles. I think this may contribute enormously to the sadness so many of us feel at the heart of contemporary society. ‘Love is not love / Which alters when it alteration finds,’ in the words of the sonnet, which I can only interpret to mean, love is loyalty. I would suggest that in its absence, all attempts to prop the family economically or morally or through education or otherwise will fail. The real issue is, will people shelter and nourish and humanize one another? This is creative work, requiring discipline and imagination. No one can be scolded or fined into doing it, nor does it occur spontaneously in the demographically traditional family.”
— Marilynne Robinson, The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought (via discourseoflove)