By Anita Anand
As long as loyalty is not misplaced, it is a human emotion with lots of virtues and benefits
“The strength of a family, like the strength of an army, is in its loyalty to each other.” – Mario Puzo, The Family
Your closest friend has invited you to her birthday party. Your parents’ 40th marriage anniversary also falls on that date. What will you do? Ideally, you would like to be with your closest friend, but you also know that your parents are expecting you to be with them. You feel disloyal if you were not with your parents, and chose your friend instead. You feel conflict, and torn in the decision you will have to make. This is what loyalty is about. And, it is about choices.
What exactly is loyalty? Loyalty is a feeling of allegiance or a course of action that you bind yourself to (intellectually or emotionally). It is an expression found in friendship, but other relationships, and associations seek to encourage it, as an aspect of affiliation or membership; families expect it, organisations often demand it, and countries do what they can to foster it.
Fred Reichheld is a business author, and strategist, best known for his research, and writing on the loyalty business model, and loyalty marketing. In his book, The Loyalty Effect, Reichheld defines loyalty as the willingness to make an investment or personal sacrifice to strengthen a relationship. Loyalty can also be faithfulness, devotion, trust, and adherence.
In this article, I am looking at not so much loyalty per se, but what the expression of loyalty does or can do for us.
Carolyn Myss, a pioneer in the field of energy medicine, and human consciousness, in her book, Anatomy of the Spirit, says that loyalty is an instinct, a custom that tribal members can rely upon, particularly in times of crisis. It is part of tribal power system, and more influential than love. For example, she says, you can feel loyalty towards a family member you do not love, and feel loyalty toward people who share your ethnic background, even though you may not know them personally.
For example, you may never have seen a cousin. However, the fact that they are your cousins, means that they are linked to you (in a tribal way), and therefore you are connected to them. My parents were from Punjab, but I was born and raised in West Bengal. I have never lived in Punjab, but when I go there, I have a feeling that some part of me belongs here. When people criticise Punjab, I notice that I get defensive.
Loyalties and change
As a therapist, many people seek my help, because they know something is wrong with their lives. Some are unhappy in their jobs, marriages, or in their families (nuclear or joint). In most cases, they have come to realise that their lives are incompatible with their emotional needs.
Carolyn Myss says that once we become conscious of our emotional needs, it is impossible to forget them. We have to make choices. The ability to choose is an active power – and the sensation of having active power is at the same time thrilling and threatening, because it makes us want to change that part of our lives which are no longer appropriate. And, changing those parts inspires us to challenge other aspects of our lives that are not satisfactory.
Changing our lives is often difficult because of our existing loyalties. Usually we learn about loyalties – within our family structure and as a connection towards our family. Loyalty to oneself is an entirely different virtue, and adhering to it can cause immense upheaval in a family. For example, a woman being loyal to herself may realise that she can no longer stay in her marriage. Once she says this to her family, she will be told ‘think of the children’ or ‘think of what people will say.’ Her case is a common example, of group loyalty conflicting with loyalty to oneself.
Often, to honour the demands of the group loyalty, we suppress our personal emotional needs. At some point, however, our emotional body becomes sufficiently empowered, and the mind can no longer fool the heart. Either the unhappy wife will end up with unceasing personal turmoil by remaining in the marriage, or she will pursue a divorce, while filled with guilt that she has been disloyal to the group, her family.
Just like loyalty in the family, there is workplace loyalty.
What would it take to get employee loyalty? Human resources professionals know that employee retention is a key factor in an organisation’s success. Loyal employees represent a cost saving over recruiting and training new hires, and loyal employees can be incredible assets to a growing company. Furthermore, there is a direct relationship between customer loyalty, and a company’s growth and profitability. You cannot have loyal customers without loyal employees. Employee loyalty is evident to your customers, and it is nearly impossible to generate loyal customers without strong internal loyalty. There is no way around it.
A great deal of literature has been written about how to generate employee loyalty. But the bottom line is that of personal loyalty. Our loyalty tends to be expressed in loyalties. That is, it is not just a general attachment, but one that is tied to certain kinds of natural or conventional associations, such as friendships, families, organisations, professions, countries, and religions. This is because associations that evoke, and exact our loyalty tend to be those with which we have become deeply involved, or identified.
My loyalties are to my friends, my family, my profession, or our country, not yours, unless yours are also mine. In such identifications, the fate or well-being of the objects of loyalty become bound up with one’s own. We feel shame or pride in their doings. We will take risks or bear burdens for them. For example, if we read or hear about Indians misbehaving in other countries, we may feel shame. If they have done well, we feel pride.
Loyalty as a virtue
Often, we hear more about the fact that disloyalty is a vice than that loyalty is a virtue. This could be because the frequency with which the demand for loyalty is used to justify engagement in unethical conduct, has led to cynicism about its value. There is a certain resonance to the saying that ‘when an organisation wants you to do right, it asks for your integrity; when it wants you to do wrong, it demands your loyalty.’
Loyalty can also be badly placed. Once formed, it requires us not merely to suspend our own judgment about its object, but even to set aside good judgment. Let us look at infidelity. For one woman, a husband’s infidelity may be a challenge to the future of the relationship but not automatically destructive of it. The relationship will be considered reparable. The issues of trust that are involved may be addressed and the relationship repaired. But for another, such infidelity may collapse the structure in which the relationship has been housed. Essential trust will have been smashed like Humpty Dumpty falling off the wall.
Is there a right and a wrong in such cases? Does the first woman lack an appreciation of the sanctity of marriage/intimacy? Does the second fail to appreciate our shared frailty and the possibilities for redemption and renewal? We cannot say what is right for one is wrong for the other and there is no easy answer. The two positions constitute the beginnings of a consideration of the nature of intimacy, what it reasonably demands of us, and how we should respond to transgressions of its expectations. The same may be true of other loyalties.
How loyal are you?
How do you decide if you are loyal or not? Ask yourself this question, before anything you do or say. Remember that loyalty to oneself is as important (if not more) as to families, friends, institutions and country. And, if you try to ensure that it’s a win-win situation, then you can be more at peace with your decision.
Let’s go back to the beginning of the article. Maybe you could suggest that your parents have a celebration at breakfast or lunch. This way you could be with your friends at night. Or you could spend some time with them both if the celebrations have to be at the same time. Explain to both parties that they are important to you and you would like to spend time with them both. This way, you will be expressing loyalty to your parents and friend and feel good about your choice. Very often, we feel we must choose without a creative solution. In this, we fall back to the tribal ways.
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