Loyalty Isn’t Something to be Taken Lightly

“I gave loyalty to someone who, truthfully, does not deserve loyalty.” – Michael Cohen, convicted felon and former lawyer to Donald J. Trump, speaking of his criminal co-conspiratorial relationship with Mr. Trump

I’m big on loyalty, Vera. By big, I mean I think it’s important. I’ll give it if I think you are worthy of it, and I expect it in return. Which is a problem. Because it’s often not given in return even if the person leads you to believe it will be. It’s also a problem because giving it can (and has) led me to make some mistakes in judgment, specifically, putting my own interests behind the interests of others. Or behind my employer’s or client’s interests when better judgment should have prevailed. So one thing I’ve learned is, loyalty isn’t to be taken lightly. Mr. Cohen’s words this week reminded me of that (although, fortunately, my loyalty was never given to someone as despicable as Mr. Trump nor did my loyalty lead me to commit criminal acts).

If I had it to do over, I suppose I’d be far stingier with my loyalty. And less naive about expecting it.

The fact of the matter is, some people take advantage of other people’s loyalty. They use it to get you to do what benefits them or their organization even if it’s not in your best interest (at least on the terms offered). One’s naiveté makes it all possible. Or, sometimes, one’s fear — fear of the consequences should you assert your interests more forcefully. But sometimes I think it’s something needier and, perhaps, more pathetic: the need for significance and to be part of something bigger than you. As if being you wasn’t big enough. Or significant enough.

If I got a do-over, I’d probably be more reluctant to extend loyalty outside my world of family and close friends. That’s not to say I’d be disloyal to others. To the contrary, honesty in all relationships is honorable. But honesty and loyalty are two different things. And the absence of loyalty isn’t disloyalty.

I’d also be more inclined to approach employment relationships for what they truly are: business transactions. As such, they should be for the mutual benefit of both parties. Loyalty shouldn’t be used as a tool. Or crutch. Or mechanism to place one party’s interests above the other party’s interests. Again, that doesn’t mean one doesn’t fulfill his or her fiduciary obligations to one’s employer. But fiduciary obligations are different from loyalty.

It also doesn’t mean one shouldn’t care or sacrifice for one’s family, whether it be the one with which we share genetic codes or the one with whom we share a community or nation. But beware: shared genes should never override sound judgment. And shared citizenship should never allow nationalism or patriotism to be used as an excuse for bad deeds.

Mr. Cohen’s tragic experiences are a reminder of the dangers of what is known as “blind loyalty,” that is, loyalty without question. Often, it leads one to make stupid decisions and, in the worst case, to do harm to others or self.

All of this said, there’s still something about loyalty that appeals to me. It’s the reliance I suppose. And the feeling there’s something bigger than ourselves that is worthy of our commitment and allegiance. And that others will be standing by you and can be trusted, unconditionally. That we are not alone.

But it’s an illusion, for we are alone. Which is O.K. Not entirely alone, of course. But, at the core, alone. I’ve come to realize we should spend less time fighting that reality, less time being uncomfortable with it, and more time getting to know ourselves and becoming entirely comfortable with our aloneness (to be distinguished from loneliness).

Moreover, age and experience have helped me see that deceit and duplicity are merely the human condition. So more often than not, loyalty isn’t something that will come our way, even when we feel certain it will be. It is what it is. Naive expectations are no one’s problem but your own. Perhaps the whole concept of loyalty is misguided.

In the end, we’re all our own people. We do what we think is in our best interest. Sometimes we’re right, and other times we’re not. That’s life. But at least we should strive to limit the number and severity of our mistakes.

If we err because of some misguided or naive notion of loyalty, whether it be the loyalty we feel we owe or the loyalty we feel we deserve, then the mistake is truly ours. And we will pay the price. Perhaps not by going to prison, as Mr. Cohen will be doing. But a heavy price nonetheless.

One thought on “Loyalty Isn’t Something to be Taken Lightly

  1. I remember that my Sensei (Kara-te teacher) outlined that the claim for respect and loyalty within the Zen-inspired BuDo philosophy refers to SELF-respect and loyalty towards ONESELF …and not towards a leader, master, teacher etc. – or anybody else.


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