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  • Writer's pictureJerry Brook

Loyalty What it is and what it isn't

What is loyalty, anyway? and what does it represent?

You are loyal to your partner, you are loyal to a brand, you are loyal to your routine, your friends, your company. But what do all of these things have in common?

It’s all about connection. Loyalty is a personal connection with an idea, an object, a person, or an activity that you identify with. It’s a bond that you might say is “unconditional”, because even if the going gets tough, you’re not going to let it go.

But loyalty has a selfish side. When others demand your loyalty, they are being selfish in that they are demanding that you set aside your own ideas in order to be loyal to them. Unconditionally.

Unconditional love vs. unconditional loyalty

Many people think about love when they hear the word “unconditional”, and it’s true – unconditional loyalty and unconditional love are the same things. They are simply different "L" words. They both represent a commitment. And, the unconditional aspect of both embody; one-sided, self-serving, selfishness.

Loyalty is something that you give, not something imposed upon you. Patriotism, for example, is a form of loyalty. While many people in the world are forced to be loyal to their country’s ruler, it doesn’t mean that that is a good thing. A form of unconditional loyalty can be exacted from individuals, but at what cost? Just ask Julius Caesar or Emperor Caligula. It rarely ends well.

Have you ever noticed that when someone demands your loyalty they will just keep asking for more and more? And what is the measurement of that loyalty? Where does it end?

Blind loyalty in a dog is a desirable trait, but in humans it is questionable. Often, it is requested of us at the expense of our own beliefs, as in a situation where we are asked to sign a petition on behalf of a friend or a group we are involved with. In this case, you will find many “loyal” subjects that do not even understand what they are fighting for. They simply sign where they were told because “we are all in it together”.

It would seem that our own judgment and reasoning skills are expected to take a back seat as we prove our allegiance through unwavering devotion in the form of loyalty.

Loyalty can apply to religion, politics, or any other shared beliefs. Remember the story of the Emperor’s new clothes? Who can you say was more loyal – was it his royal subjects who oohed and ahhed over his new outfit, or was it the child who so aptly pointed out that he was naked?

This is a good example of how truth and loyalty can be at odds with one another. When truth vs. loyalty are not aligned with each other, we should be able to call upon our own wisdom to decide what to do.

What would you do if you were asked to prove your loyalty through affirmative action?

In an extreme example, asking somebody to kill themselves could be seen as the ultimate display of loyalty. However, you won’t be able to ask anything more of that person ever again. Taken in this light, you can see that unconditional, or extremist, loyalty is selfish, and selfishness is disrespectful.

Loyalty must be conditional

All things, including Loyalty and Love, must have limits and boundaries. They are based on our own values, and if we choose to take the unpopular stance or to go against those who we declare loyalty to, we should not be expected to betray our own beliefs in the process. Loyalty does not and should not mean blind faith.

In other words, loyalty is first and foremost to yourself before all others.

Loyalty is a two-way street. Loyalty should not only be for our benefit, it should also be for the benefit of those we profess loyalty to.

Family, friends, business – these are a few examples of where unconditional loyalty might apply. If we are talking about an intimate relationship, it then becomes unconditional love.

Loyalty in love: what that means

If we apply what we now know about loyalty to a love relationship, if you give unconditional love, you are accepting that you will sometimes be expected to show great disrespect to yourself. If you demand unconditional love and loyalty from another, you are being disrespectful to the other person.

If we are truly good human beings, we are bound to do right by ourselves as well as the person we profess loyalty to. If we are not true to our own ideals, we are not doing any justice to those to whom we are loyal.

Loyalty must always be mitigated with the truth. It must always stay true to your own values, the things that you hold dear. Loyalty should never be confused with obedience or fealty, it should be seen for what it should be: a bonding principle, a deep feeling, a connection with another for whom you are prepared to go to great lengths.

The Loyalty Challenge

Your challenge this week is to examine your loyalties. Have you ever been in a situation where you have been expected to go against something that you believe, simply to prove your loyalty? Next time you are in this situation, consider tempering your response with honesty. Using humor (if possible) and reasoning, is it possible for you to remain loyal while still being allowed to follow your own beliefs?

Good Together: your guide to healthy, happy relationships

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