“Death before dishonor” is a phrase that represents the loyalty a person has to something or someone that matters more than their own life.
It has grown in popularity after Dr. Conrad Hawkings flashed the ink on The Resident, but this choice for a tattoo has been popular in some circles for more than a generation.
It is often seen on people who serve in the United States Marine Corps. The expression might be tattooed by itself, with a skull, or using images like a sword or a heart.
In the 1960s and 1970s, this tattoo was often seen on the wrist. It was moved to the shoulder in the 1980s, and then to sleeves in the 1990s.
Today, you can find it with modern lettering on the chest, back, or collarbone – or at the other placement points.
What Does the “Death Before Dishonor” Tattoo Mean?
The phrase “death before dishonor” represents the willingness to die for something of great value. It reflects a belief system that incorporates religious, political, or justice overtones. This tattoo is often seen in the United States in conservative circles to symbolize one’s patriotism.
Before it was adopted by veterans and those serving active duty in the military, the phrase was used in Japan’s samurai culture and even by Julius Caesar.
The samurai are responsible for incorporating three tears into the graphic expressions of the phrase.
Why Has It Become a Popular Tattoo?
The idea of embracing death before dishonor is an expression of loyalty to your family, friends, country, faith, and culture. It’s more than ink.
It is a state of mind.
That’s why you can see it across multiple products and art pieces in military and law enforcement circles today. It’s even incorporated on challenge coins.
Some people use the concept of loyalty to express their connections to those who were killed in action while serving their country.
You can see the “death before dishonor” tattoo with the person’s name or initials, their life years, or even a portrait.
That concept of loyalty has spread into the civilian world. Many people use the “death before dishonor” tattoo to be a symbol that they’d rather die than betray their country.
It’s typically seen in American conservative groups, but it is also sported by moderates and liberals.
One design isn’t preferred over another. It is an individualized expression that tells others about their loyalty.
Can Someone Be Too Loyal to Others?
Without loyalty, there is little trust. If you don’t have that, it’s difficult to form a team or pursue commitments to others. That’s why the military values this trait – and so do businesses.
As time passes, you form a strong bond with some of the people you interact with regularly. This process encourages everyone to stay loyal to their organization.
When the “death by dishonor” tattoo reflects national pride, the same elements of loyalty exist. We all feel naturally loyal to the institutions and communities to which we belong.
Those are all good things.
There is also such a thing as placing too much value on being loyal. Some people are even blindly loyal to people, groups, and organizations – and that can be a bad thing.
When someone is overly loyal, they’re more likely to participate in unethical acts. That means an organization or individual can exploit them to further their needs at the expense of the person who values personal loyalty.
It isn’t always easy to navigate your feelings and instincts in this area. If you’re new to a group or learning how to manage your emotions or relationships, there are risks of exploitation to consider because you’re trying to “prove” yourself.
Loyalty comes with some specific benefits that can help someone turn themselves into stronger individuals.
- It improves personal performance and focus.
- Loyalty demonstrates individual trustworthiness to show you’re ready for new opportunities.
- It reduces job- and life-related stress.
- People who remain loyal to their circles are typically happier and more satisfied with their circumstances.
The concepts inspired by the notion of “death before dishonor” translate into material and psychological benefits.
What Are the Risks of Being Too Loyal?
When you are loyal to others or your employer, you and everyone in your circle are typically in a better position. If these feelings aren’t managed appropriately, they can also foster unethical behavior.
If someone is loyal to another, they’re less likely to hold that person accountable if they act criminally or unethically.
In the business world, this disadvantage means an employee is unlikely to become a whistleblower if they see or experience corruption.
Since they feel like they’re part of a community and want to protect it, that makes it easier for loyalty to let them overlook wrongdoing.
Toshiba experienced this issue. The company’s leaders cultivated loyalty as a corporate value within their workforce.
They made people believe that they could earn a near lifetime appointment if they merely demonstrated their commitment to the organization.
That meant you had to support the company’s people, goals, and long-term vision.
By cultivating loyalty in that way, Toshiba’s senior managers falsified financials, tied to $1.2 billion in overstated operating profits.
Although the CEO didn’t instruct anyone to falsify the books, they placed pressure on subordinates and used the company’s culture to create the results they wanted.
The accounting scandal happened in 2015. Only five years later, a subsidiary booked fictitious sales through 26 transactions recorded on paper only.
Why did people take these steps? They believed that their actions were in the company’s best interests.
Another example is the financial problems at Enron that eventually led to its demise. People were blinded by their loyalty to the company, causing them to overlook what was happening.
Theranos did the same, creating silos between departments that needed to collaborate to ensure that investments kept coming even though the technology was failing.
Politically, a similar issue occurs with loyalty. People will put up with lies, deceit, and unethical behavior because they think people with similar political philosophies can “save” their country from people who are different from them. It happens on all sides of the political spectrum.
Tony Dungy recently said that children who grow up without a father are more likely to commit a crime, live in poverty, drop out of school, and be in prison.
Barack Obama said the same thing, except critics of both men are quick to chastise one before the other.
Loyalty can bring people together, but it can also tear them apart.
How to Find a Great Tattoo Artist
If you’re interested in having a “death before dishonor” tattoo created for you, here are some tips that can help you find an artist who can do the work.
1. Read Reviews
Before deciding on a tattoo artist, do some research and check their reviews and portfolio examples.
Individual artists and studios are incentivized to promote themselves online with this information.
You’ll also want to visit the studio or space where they work to ensure you feel comfortable with that setting.
2. Ask Questions
When you have a small tattoo that you want to be done, it helps to find out their schedule and rate.
A larger piece, like a “death before dishonor” tattoo, might need a consultation before booking an appointment.
Here are some questions you can consider asking.
- What got you into this line of work?
- Are you comfortable working with my skin type?
- Do you use vegan ink and other supplies?
Tattoos are personal experiences. If you feel at ease with your artist, it’ll be easier to sit still for the entire process of getting inked.
3. Request a Referral
If you know someone who got some amazing ink done, ask them where they got the tattoo. You’ll have a better idea of the outcome to expect.
Some tattoos must be completed in stages because of their complexity. If you’re patient with the process and work with the artist or studio, you’ll enjoy the results much more.
Should I Get a Tattoo?
Tattoos offer a unique canvas for self-expression. If the art means something and a person loves it, finding a trustworthy artist ensures that the desired outcome occurs. “Death before dishonor” tattoos might not be a great choice for a first tattoo with its lettering, especially on skin areas that tend to be thin.
The best spot for a new tattoo for beginners is the forearm. It tends to hurt the least there, feeling a lot like a deliberate scratch.
Experienced artists use updated sterilization techniques to reduce the risk of contracting a bloodborne illness.
If you’re on a blood thinner, it is advisable to seek the advice of a doctor before getting a tattoo. It helps to relay allergies to the artist for the best outcome.
I love my Celtic tattoo. It’s held up well since I’ve gotten it, even though it has red colors. If you want to express your loyalty to others, a “death before dishonor” piece could be the right fit!