Loyalty is a trait that most of us value a great deal. To me, loyalty is something that is earned. We become loyal to another person for different reasons. For me it is when there actions match my core values and beliefs and I trust that they will strive to work in my best interest…even when that is doing something difficult, like telling me something I don’t want to hear.
Unfortunately I feel like the word often gets misused. People will talk about wanting to make a choice that a friend or partner won’t like and the fear that they are being disloyal to that person. It even gets used as a criticism…if you make a decision that I don’t like then you are being disloyal. Even though the decision is the right one for the person making it.
I don’t believe that feeling guilty and not making the right decision for yourself because it will hurt someone else is loyalty at all. I think that’s obligation. Obligation is something you feel you must do, whether you want to or not. And when someone doesn’t like your decision and tries to use guilt to get you to change your mind, well that’s just them trying to convince you that you are obligated.
In reality, if another person is trying to make you feel like you are being disloyal for making a decision that is right for you, aren’t they the ones actually being disloyal? Shouldn’t a friend or loved on be supportive of you making the best choices for yourself, even if it isn’t what they want for themselves? They don’t have to like it, but to actually try to make you feel bad about yourself isn’t the actions of someone who is treating you well.
I’m always surprised by how often people try to make a claim for another person’s loyalty based on the length of a relationship. This really comes out when it is a decision that will affect the relationship itself. Let’s say one friend decides that they don’t have the same interests as the other person anymore and is starting to do new activities. The person that feels they are being left behind will make the claim, “but we’ve known each other for x number of years. Where is your loyalty?”
But length of a relationship alone is not enough to warrant loyalty. Most of us have had some relationships for a very long time but feel no loyalty to the people in those relationships. That’s because there can be many reasons that we have long term relationships with people and it isn’t always people we would choose to have them with if circumstances were different.
So if loyalty isn’t obligation, what is it? I believe one of the most important features of loyalty is the benefit of the doubt. When you are loyal to someone I believe that you put a higher level of trust in their decision making. If you don’t trust someone and they behave in a way that you object to, you may be quick to end your relationship with that person.
When it is someone you are loyal to, and they engage in questionable actions or decision making you are more willing to stick with them. Not because you follow them without question, but because you believe their actions are the exception. You give them the leeway you don’t give someone else because you have reason to know that at their core self they are different than those actions might show.
If someone tries to pull the loyalty card on you…or if you even question yourself about your loyalty…think about the difference between obligation and loyalty. And don’t feel obligated to be loyal.