We all crave loyalty. Associated with honor, loyalty is demonstrated by a “Going down with the ship”, “No man left behind”, “No matter what” mentality. Loyalty is cited in Psychology Today as one of the top three qualities people look for in a relationship. An ironclad contract with no wiggle room, loyalty keeps marriages intact through rocky periods and also fuels loveless partnerships of convenience. When loyalty becomes enabling, it serves neither party. How do you define loyalty?
When a trait is unanimously preferable, we all agree on it. People who are loyal are good, and people who do not meet our criteria for this label are bad. This becomes more complicated if we zoom in on all our different definitions of what it means to be loyal. One friend feels it’s disloyal to miss her birthday party. Another one doesn’t care if you skip her party, but you must ignore a mom she detests at school pickup to prove your allegiance. Our definition is obvious to us, so we operate with the assumption that everyone is on the same page. Rarely do we communicate our expectations yet we judge harshly when people don’t behave how we want them to in our allotted time frame. Our friend circles are composed of people who share our belief systems and nod as we rant about the latest injustice in our life. We don’t like people who disagree with us. We internalize opposing viewpoints as conflict, which triggers our survival instinct.
But we stop developing when our thinking is not challenged.
As a child, I was a loyalty fanatic. Growing up in a family with an alcoholic, there was a lot of inconsistency. I sought out people who “had my back”. If you loved me than you needed to prove it by doing everything my way. Noncompliance was viewed as treason and grounds for exile. I used the concept of loyalty to control people, and it worked, keeping my friends and boyfriends silent. A synonym of loyalty in the dictionary is obedience which explains why our personal definitions rarely leave room for constructive feedback.
My thoughts on loyalty have evolved over the years. What does it mean in a relationship to be loyal? What exactly am I being loyal to? The Buddha nature in someone or their fragile identity which houses blind spots, complaints, and excuses? When getting along is the dominant rule of engagement, loyalty mutates into co-dependency. Melody Beattie is an excellent resource in this area. You cannot show up in the world and be of service if you are not taking care of yourself first.
Jim Rohn said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Who do you spend the most time being loyal to? How do their energy and thinking affect you?
Loyalty for me includes saying it all. However, honest feedback without love is anger in disguise. The trending concept of “brutal honesty” perpetuates the self-righteous anger of our egos. I need to check my intentions before engaging in challenging conversations or offering up unsolicited advice. Whenever my amygdala is hijacked, it’s essential to keep my mouth shut and turn to prayer and meditation until I reconnect with my heart. Voicing an opposing viewpoint with love requires patience, courage, and commitment.
We are also loyal to ways of thinking that cause us pain. When we parrot opinions handed down by our parents or based on past experience, we exit the present moment. How often do you operate with blind loyalty to an unexamined belief? How I identify with my thoughts and emotions today is a choice. Holding what I believe loosely makes room for new information and experiences to integrate. I want the right to change my mind as I grow and be surrounded by people who give me the space to do so because they are growing too.
Mark Twain said this beautifully, “Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul in this world—and never will.”