21 years ago today, I took vows before God, Family, and Friends that instantly gave me a label that I have worn proudly ever since: Husband. Today’s occasion has me thinking about a word and idea that has all but totally disappeared from our modern vocabulary: Fidelity.
Google the word “fidelity” and the entire first page of results is devoted to the investment company or a home health care provider. Finding links related to the virtue of Fidelity itself requires loading the next page of results or using a more specific search. This is in stark contrast to other words such as Loyalty, which produce dictionary links and definitions.
It isn’t just a vague feeling that Fidelity’s best days as a part of our cultural moral vocabulary are long in the past. In fact, the notion of Fidelity as a distinct virtue has so lost it’s place in our cultural lexicon that even a company named Fidelity doesn’t reference the value of Fidelity as one of its corporate values!
So, what is Fidelity, exactly? Taking a comprehensive view of the word from it’s different contextual uses, four components emerge:
- Accountability for Promises Made
- Loyalty to Ideals
- Faithfulness to Duty
- Exactness in Details
An interesting collection of traits, especially after hearing President George W. Bush list “Faithfulness” as one of his 4 key attributes of Leadership a few weeks ago.
Given that, it’s easy to see why Fidelity has fallen out of favor over the last several decades. As Aristotle taught, how we talk about things shapes how we think about them, and the trends of the values we are talking about paint a clear picture, thanks to Google’s analytics tools:
Idyllic notions of Faithfulness and Fidelity are antiquated notions compared to modern concerns of Efficiency and Practicality. Getting things done and getting them done with the best RoI is what matters nowadays far more than adhering to the ideals of old world virtues. Is it any wonder we are on the precipice of having to choose among the two most negatively viewed Presidential candidates in history?
In his provocatively titled book Leadership BS, Stanford Business School professor Jeffrey Pfeffer goes to great lengths to debunk idealistic values like Modesty, Authenticity, Truthfulness, and Trust as components of great leadership. For Pfeffer, this model of leadership is an empty bill of goods being sold by the “leadership development industry” that ignores Reality: that narcissism gets better results, honesty and being true to oneself causes problems rather than solves them, and trust is vastly overrated as a necessary asset. Even Adam Grant has jumped on board in support of this idea that what works in the “real world” is what’s best: that people who take cues on how they should act from the people around them and shape their actions to match that image “advance faster and earn higher status, in part because they’re more concerned about their reputations.” (This is a strange position to see Grant take, given the theme of his book Give and Take that made him a breakout celebrity thought leader.)
In a world full of dishonesty and myopic self-interest, a rigorous dedication to a set of timeless higher values doesn’t compute as practical or efficient. It may not even be viewed as very effective from the high-altitude perches of the business school ivory towers of Stanford and Wharton. Nevertheless, I believe Fidelity is needed now more than ever, and bringing the concept back to rhetorical life is a small but vital first step.
Tonight my Wife and I have a high-brow dinner and Tony-Award-winning show on tap to celebrate our 21 years of hard work that has made our marriage a success so far. Join me in raising a glass — to Fidelity!