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.