The Dark Side of Loyalty

The Dark Side of Loyalty December 6, 2015

Loyalty is praiseworthy.

Loyalty creates trust between people and allows us to have those long-lasting, deep, safe relationships that we need and crave. Loyalty builds and sustains connections between individuals and within groups. Loyalty helps us to be vulnerable with each other. Loyal people–those who know us best and support us anyway–are the ones we turn to, again and again.

Loyalty is one of our most admired and sought-after traits, as evidenced by the way we treat and speak of and feel loyalty’s opposite action: betrayal.

2500 Adages of Imam Ali

No friendship for a friend would last with betrayal.

Betrayal carries a dark and sinister tone. To betray someone is far, far worse than to simply hurt, deceive, or misuse another person, a stranger. To betray indicates that you know and built trust with someone, and then used the trust wrongly, willfully. To betray trust, to take loyalty and spit on it, is often (and rightly so) the end of a relationship. Once trust is gone, what can be left? What foundation can a relationship possibly have? How can you build anything good on betrayal?

The Apocrypha: Sirach ch. 6

Separate thyself from thine enemies, and take heed of thy friends.
A faithful friend is a strong defense: and he that hath found such an one hath found a treasure.
Nothing doth countervail a faithful friend, and his excellency is invaluable.
A faithful friend is the medicine of life; and they that fear the Lord shall find him.
Whoso feareth the Lord shall direct his friendship aright: for as he is, so shall his neighbour be also.

Loyalty isn’t always good, though. We humans tend toward extremes. We bounce back and forth from one point-of-view to another, and seem to find the middle of the road distasteful. Our view of loyalty is no different. We have come to see loyalty as an ultimate end in itself. Rather than seeing loyalty as action, a way to demonstrate trust and commitment, we see loyalty as an end, a goal. And we define loyalty in ways that can severely limit and hurt our own growth and the growth of any relationship.

For example, we define loyalty as agreement. As a result, we draw back from honesty with each other when it means disagreement or the possibility of conflict. But honesty is essential. Disagreement is normal, healthy, important for any deep relationship because without disagreement we don’t learn and gain new understanding.

We define loyalty as conformity. As a result, we require others to adhere to certain customs and codes, whether or not they have any real significance or value. But conformity is not loyalty. To conform is to ‘be like’ another person, or a group of people; to be loyal is to keep your commitments, to faithfully offer support to a person or group of people. Conformity is not required.

Summa Theologica: Of Charity

St. Thomas Aquinas

Friendship extends to a person in two ways: first in respect of himself, and in this way friendship never extends but to one’s friends: secondly, it extends to someone in respect of another, as, when a man has friendship for a certain person, for his sake he loves all belonging to him, be they children, servants, or connected with him in any way. Indeed so much do we love our friends, that for their sake we love all who belong to them, even if they hurt or hate us; so that, in this way, the friendship of charity extends even to our enemies, whom we love out of charity in relation to God, to Whom the friendship of charity is chiefly directed.

Our poor understanding of loyalty leads to a dangerous place for all of us. When loyalty means agreement and conformity, our relationships become shallow and our identities become meaningless. We are asked to sacrifice our growth, our learning, our own desperate need to progress and change, for the sake of relationship or group acceptance. The either/or situation we’re given is stark and terrifying: either be loyal (agree/conform) or be alone.

Loyalty is a deeper and better thing than agreement or conformity. My best, most valuable relationships are with those who call me out on my stupidity and accept my individuality. My greatest display of loyalty is when I choose to offer acceptance and support in spite of disagreement and differences.

Poems from the Divan of Hafiz

Getrude Lowthian Bell

TRUE love has vanished from every heart;
What has befallen all lovers fair?
When did the bonds of friendship part?—
What has befallen the friends that were?

I can accept and support a friend even when I don’t agree with her. I can offer support in many, many ways to friends who differ from me in almost every way: ethnicity, philosophy, beliefs, background, lifestyle, goals. I can even accept and support a group when I don’t agree with or conform to their outlook: I can accept their existence and their validity, and I can support their freedom and their rights.

To live loyalty in this way, however, without requiring agreement and conformity, requires us to be honest, humble, and respectful. It can be difficult to accept and honor someone who is different in ways we don’t like or understand. It can be even more difficult to admit the validity of a group with a philosophy which opposes our own. To live loyalty this way, however, is a bigger challenge with a bigger reward. When we choose to accept and support the entire human race, we all benefit.

Carmina Gadelica, Volume 1, Rune Before Prayer

Alexander Carmicheal

I AM bending my knee
In the eye of the Father who created me,
In the eye of the Son who purchased me,
In the eye of the Spirit who cleansed me,
In friendship and affection.
Through Thine own Anointed One, O God,
Bestow upon us fullness in our need,
Love towards God,
The affection of God,
The smile of God,
The wisdom of God,
The grace of God,
The fear of God,
And the will of God
To do on the world of the Three,
As angels and saints
Do in heaven;
Each shade and light,
Each day and night,
Each time in kindness,
Give Thou us Thy Spirit.

Photo Credit: sandid, CC license

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