(un)Questioning Loyalty

Loyalty. It’s a loaded word. I understand when its meaning is you will stand by the people you love and care about when times are tough, when people get sick, when they get divorced, when they’re isn’t money. I get that. You show up when they have a birthday party and you show up when they need help moving. You listen. You offer a hand or a ride to the airport. You keep their secrets. When they are wronged, you support them. You don’t befriend their enemies or if you do, you never betray your loved person as a result. You have their interests at heart. All this makes sense.

What does not make sense to me is offering loyalty without strings. Giving loyalty that crosses your own ethics, your personal sense of right and wrong. Not speaking up when someone you care about is doing questionable things, or is hurting other people. When they’re being dishonest and not necessarily with you – maybe you know they’re being dishonest with someone else. Exactly how loyal should you be when someone is crossing lines? Even if you are not personally and directly affected?

A prime example that comes to mind is how you approach someone else’s extramarital (or extrarelationship) affair, especially when you also know and care about the person being cheated on, or “cheatee.” This situation is one of life’s truly sticky widgets. I think minimally, a person of integrity doesn’t help facilitate the affair – that being one skeezy kind of loyalty. But I know plenty of people would disagree, not the least of which are many of those roping their friends and family into their affairs under the auspices of loyalty.

Blood is a big one in the loyalty annals. There are those who believe if someone is kin, you must be unfailingly loyal matter what they do. Or if you are married to them you must give total loyalty. A whole lot of crappy things have been done based on this thinking.

It’s been a surprising 20 years since David Kaczynski turned in his brother, Ted, the eventually-convicted “Unabomber,” and I still remember that there was public backlash and debate over his action. His brother was responsible for killing people! And there was no reason to expect his mailed bomb exploits were over. I really couldn’t believe – then or now – that anyone could question the rightness of David Kaczynski’s choice, one he says he did not make easily. What would the naysayers have had him do? Go give Ted a “good talking-to” and extract a promise he wouldn’t do it anymore?

Of course, most situations where loyalty comes into play won’t be that extreme. In fact, some may be a good bit more abstract. I find it difficult to be stridently loyal not only to those who I see doing things wrong (in my opinion) but who also hold potentially damaging and/or hateful beliefs.

If I turn the tables a bit, I can offer that I wouldn’t want people close to me to be loyal no matter what I did. I’d hope they would stay awake and alert, true to their own ethics. To speak up if they thought I was headed the wrong direction or missing important points.

I know that’s what I do; speak up when someone close is making iffy decisions, most of all when they impinge on or hurt other people. That doesn’t necessarily mean they change what they’re doing, but it does mean there are and will be times I hold back loyalty.

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30 thoughts on “(un)Questioning Loyalty

    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Thank you so much! For some reason – nothing specific in my current life – this has been on my mind. It’s nice to know you see it the same; I don’t expect other people to draw as tough a line as I do (because they often don’t).

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      1. A.PROMPTreply

        Hah! How many times have I said just that very thing? It seems you and I have MUCH in common. I’ve never heard anyone else say that EVER and you’re right,…..we are few and far between I think (people who draw tough lines).

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  1. vanbytheriver

    Interesting post, Colette. If it was infidelity…I’d stay out of it; these things have a way of working out without my input. Where lives or safety is concerned, I would be like Ted K’s brother. The pain of betraying family is nothing compared to the pain of living with the consequences if you did not. ☺ Van

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Hey Van, with the affair issue, sometimes people try to pull in their friends/family by asking them to “cover” for them or to accept the new person into social circles, so taking a stand is forced. (I’m with you on how they ultimately tend to work out independent of bystanders, but not always without casualties.)

      Yes – the possibility of living with consequences should motivate an ethical person, yet even there, many people seem to assume that risk. People will do all kinds of mental/psychological contortions to accommodate the unacceptable.

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  2. gloriad54

    I feel exactly the same way. If someone can lie to their spouse, then they may eventually lie to you, too. Ted K probably would have killed his brother if he knew he was going to turn him in. Beautifully written. Thank you.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      And thank you so much. I think about that too; whether deceit toward one person implies the (potential for) deceit toward all. I am uncertain, but wary.

      True enough, when I googled a few things before writing this post, I learned that David wanted anonymity as the informant, but it was leaked. He clearly knew there’d be trouble of one sort or another.

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  3. Anxious Mom

    Enjoyed this post. I agree, there is a limit to what loyalty should include, blood or not. One thing I find curious with some of my own family members is that turning a blind eye to certain things isn’t enough; they also want validation that whatever they’re doing isn’t so bad. Strange.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Oh yes! That sounds familiar. If someone can get enough people in their camp they can all create a fabulous new fantasy reality together! Then, you, the sane person, is the odd one out. And we all know the odd man out must be wrong.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      I’m on my way with a shovel and tarp, bro, but just this one time.

      (And seriously, thank you. And also thanks for the “shout-out” from your blog – several people stopped by here because of it.)

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  4. SD Gates

    I agree completely. I am loyal to a point, but when someone asks me to start being dishonest and lie about things then I start having issues. Great post!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Thanks so much!! It’s a fuzzy area when someone close starts to want questionable things because they almost never present it that way. It is typically on you to make an issue of it, to say, “whoa, wait a minute here…”

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  5. Angie Mc

    Colette, while I’m loyal (to a fault some would say) to people, I’m also loyal to my values. To the best of my knowledge, I will not participate or encourage anything related to big harm, big damage, or gross negligence. In general, I don’t look for faults in others and focus on my own. I also tend to respect other adults’ paths, mistakes and all, because I’ve made my own. I let adults work things out for themselves because often getting involved can cause more harm than good. But boy oh boy are these calls tricky to make.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      I push more, Angie, than you, for sure, in part because I want to understand the other person’s thinking; I want to know if they get the ramifications of potential harm. I am the person who says, “If you do X, Y and Z could quite likely occur. Is that ok with you?” (And if Y or Z aren’t ok with me for whatever reason, I say so.) Your comment, once again, makes me feel there is more to be said on this!

      And even as I describe my own behavior to you, I know it has – and is – changing. I do not get as wrapped up in other people’s concerns as I once did.

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      1. Angie Mc

        There really is a finesse, an art, a dance to this matter, isn’t there? Pushing and pulling. Connecting and detaching. When and when not to. Once you have this figured out, Colette, write a book and you’ll be rich! And I want the first autographed copy 😀

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  6. Kate Crimmins

    The dynamics are always interesting as people don’t always act as they think they would. I watched a scene play out where one stepdaughter had an affair with the husband of the best friend of her sister. Messy yes. Took a while for them all to sort it out. In the end one lost a friend and the affair never stuck. I do think they both learned some lessons on loyalty and ethics.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      When you’re younger, especially, it’s more likely not to take the long view, as your story demonstrates! Between sisters, there can be so much, conscious and not, driving their actions. It’s only when the symbolic bill arrives that things really look different and perhaps regrettable. Thanks for sharing that.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Oh interesting. That makes me think of crime bosses in movies and all their talk about “loyalty” or gangs. But you’re right; there’s a kind of loyalty that says in effect, “If you are loyal to me, you owe me.”

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