Loyalty: Please Do Not Touch

Why (almost) no one wants loyalty, they want privacy and respect. 

loyal (adj.)

“true or faithful in allegiance,” 1530s, in reference to subjects of sovereigns or governments, from Middle French loyal, from Old French loial, leal “of good quality; faithful; honorable; law-abiding; legitimate, born in wedlock,” from Latin legalem, from lex “law” (see legal).

Identical with legal, which maintains the Latin form; in most uses it has displaced Middle English leal, which is an older borrowing of the French word. For the twinning, compare royal/regal. Sense development in English is feudal, via notion of “faithful in carrying out legal obligations; conformable to the laws of honor.” In a general sense (of dogs, lovers, etc.), from c. 1600. As a noun meaning “those who are loyal” from the 1530s (originally often in plural).

The term gets thrown around with lots of emphasis on longevity these days. In most cases I have to remind myself that there’re many definitions floating around that influence our lives. They aren’t all bad. Nor are they all good. No matter what there are some situations for which some form of loyalty is necessary.

Some people argue that the world’s landscape is different now and that in the presence of the modern hyper-connectivity of the information age, loyalty is a scarce “commodity” and that before the devil, or forces of darkness, or plain weakness had their way with the modern era, people “fixed things” instead of laying them by to waste (things like marriages, friendships, partnerships etc.).

These are valid points to me. However, they don’t make the abuses of loyalty any less costly or painful.

There are a number of abuses that I’ve seen in my circles (I don’t expect I’ve seen them all just yet, but there is a pattern never the less):

  1. Because things were one way and only one way, leading up to the present, it is wrong, or “disloyal” to change them.
  2. Because someone claims to be loyal, that it is only fair that you are loyal in return.
  3. Being loyal is more important than being truthful or right because being truthful or right correctly makes you lonely and nobody likes a stubborn person.
  4. Being loyal is the opposite of being right when necessary and up to the person responsible for the wrong decision.
  5. Being loyal always comes back around, and your homies are family and will always be there for you and love you and hold it down and keep it real and support you and are family. And will always be there for you, so give them whatever they need. They would only ask for it because they need it.
  6. Loyalty is an entitlement you can earn. Do what it takes to get it. It’s worth it, but you don’t deserve it until then because you’re unworthy.

Unique to none of these but perhaps the most obvious in the final example is the nature of the unspoken contract that comes with “loyalty”: The submission to the idea that one’s value comes from the strength of the bond itself.

This becomes a catalyst for shifts in some things, chief among them, a person’s identity. But too often, among the casualties, people’s value seldom escapes. Loyalty becomes the thing that raises you up from insignificance into importance, into recognition, and into restored value as a human (from what exactly I’m not entirely sure, it depends on who is making the demand for loyalty).

It seems unfair to me that by making people desire something like loyalty, or belonging, they can be made to think that they are less than themselves, but…

…What we can gleam from the original terming of the word, “Loyal” is that like many other things in the modern English language, its meaning has changed, while its definition has remained the same or visa virsa. But what about the roots of it all? Is life so importantly different that the word should lose touch with being, “faithful in carrying out legal obligations; conformable to the laws of honor.”?

For myself and many others, I think that it was simply a lack of being informed the entire time that led to the expungement of the very critical aspects of this term, “faithful,” “legal” and “honor.” The modern tongue has rightsized the term down to two out of three of these pillars at best.

I don’t expect that I’ve seen all the layers behind this change definition. I see enough to worry, and I know that had loyal meant, “legal,” or at the very least, “faithful” or “honorable” to me earlier in life, far less would have happened under my watch or at my own hands, and perhaps less would have happened to me. It’s a natural and understandably human trait.

What troubles me is that we live in a culture that tells people when they have violated the modern definition mandate of, “never betraying for anything,” far more harm is allowed to persist. Its a fear of the accusation, to be seen as disloyal that promotes the acceptance of worse things. In short, loyalty, by modern measures, for its own means, is selfish. Being morally upright will cost you today because of it.

What real loyalty is something most people want nothing of. We think of loyalty as something that makes life more convenient because we have earned it through trust when in actuality real loyalty will promote accountability, which, while being good, is far from convenient.

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