When I looked up the word loyalty in the dictionary, the word “faithfulness” was primary in each explanation. Faithfulness to an ideal, principle, etc. was expected. When it came to defining loyalty to a person. though, it added an important word: “faithfulness to a person who is due.” The word “due” is an important distinction in my mind because it infers that the person has to deserve my loyalty, that they have earned it. It is also a point of clarity for me. Over the years, and I have spoken of this before, I have had to filter out and clean my own personal loyalty house. When it comes to an ideal, or principle I think it had become clear that certain groups or institutions to which I had plead wholehearted faithfulness no longer represented the principles to which I believe they were supposed to represent. While the stripping away part may have taken effort, it was a necessary step for me in clarifying where my loyalties would lie. And I think in the present culture it has only intensified. How can you be true to a person or institution who isn’t the reflection of the ideas or ideals they claim to represent?
We all have had the experience of being loyal to someone who really didn’t deserve it. I’m not talking about our shared human frailties, I know I have acted in a way on occasion that could be considered disloyal…I’m speaking about those toxic people who continuously behave in a way that defies the reasons we were loyal in the first place and leave us diminished rather than enhanced as people. Those experiences should help us hone our ability to choose better people in the future, and also more importantly show us how to be better worthy of another’s loyalty. Those relationships that command loyalty come from an investment of time, experience and continued proof on both sides that the loyalty is justified.
So there is reason to be concerned with what we are asked to do in today’s market of social media regarding our loyalties. There are those who play on our weaknesses, fears, laziness and at times character flaws to create such a divisive and angry divide. I see cable news do it, political parties do it, religions do it, and the list goes on and on. They demand loyalty without being held to account for whether or not they hold up the ideals they are supposed to stand for, claim the exclusive power to define who is right and who is wrong, are just using people for their own personal gain, or even more nefarious reasons, all to create an us vs them environment where no one can think differently without being vilified. The thing that befuddles and concerns me most deeply is to see good intelligent people fall prey to this kind of nonsense just because it suits their color or symbol of the moment. The leverage we give these groups instead of truth or principles they are supposed to stand for, is one of the greatest evils of our time.
And yet, how do you address it? It has become so difficult to have a civilized discussion at all about people who strike such polarity in our world. It never used to be a big deal to have friends that held different beliefs than I did…not so anymore. So rather than conquer the great white elephant in the room, let me ask you this: To whom or what are you pledging your loyalty? Do they represent your values, and would you stake your soul on it? These questions shouldn’t be answered easily, because there is just too much smoke and mirrors out there that the truth must be fought for. Expecting loyalty should take time, patience and experience. If the behavior doesn’t measure up, or isn’t truthful, then cut them free and look elsewhere. My loyalties may be few, but I believe they are worthy of my fidelity…until they are not.