My father always extolled the virtues of loyalty. Specifically, he extolled the virtue of him being loyal to his employer. He demonstrated this by buying its products when given the choice (for example). He reasoned that his employer provided him with a living and for that reason he (and by extension his family) should be loyal to his employer. The company he worked for was bought in the 80s by another larger company and my father lost his job as a result. He remained unemployed for a couple of years before another company hired him. During that period I remember him being very irritable and angry. I was young at the time and did not make the connection between the anger he vented on me and my siblings and the fact that he felt betrayed regarding his lack of employment. On one hand this was not an issue of loyalty per se. His employer paid him for the work he did and there was a reciprocal relationship there. Another company purchased his company and replaced the management team. There technically was no breach of loyalty in the scenario. However, there is no denying the fact that he felt betrayed. Perhaps it was the issue of loyalty on a higher level that seemed to be frustrated when he lost his job. Perhaps he felt that the universe was somehow being disloyal or had breached some sort of implied cosmic contract.
My father naturally passed this sense of loyalty on to me. Growing up, I always considered loyalty to be an admirable quality demonstrating one’s personal sense of responsibility and that being disloyal was a sin akin to irresponsibility. I connect this idea with the fact that I grew up in a family environment where the sense was constantly impressed upon me that World War II was a golden age for America. The war years were a time when everyone was loyal and patriotic (at least this was the way it had been described to me). This idea implied that the reason the United States of America of my youth seemed to be a declining power could be attributed to its citizens no longer being as loyal and patriotic as they were during the period of World War II.
I remember talking to my uncle (my father’s brother) at my wedding right before the ceremony was about to begin. At the time I assumed my uncle had the same virtues as my father because they grew up in the same mid western family under the same parents. I remember telling my uncle that I learned the value of loyalty from his generation. My uncle replied tersely, “loyalty is earned.” This struck me as a different message than I was accustomed to hearing from my father but I put it aside for the time being.
I always felt a responsibility to be loyal to society at large and the organizations in which I was a member. I felt that if I followed the rules I would naturally succeed and be rewarded in due time. My experience, however, did not prove this feeling to be true. It seems like every organization of which I was a member declined around me because other people were not as loyal to it as they should have been. That is, they did not take their membership seriously and they were not as loyal as I was. There were many situations where I remained loyal when other people bailed and I went down with the ship of more than a few organizations in my life. At times I looked at these people who were not being loyal around me who in many cases went on to be more successful and less burdened by my concerns. This made me feel jealous, resentful and somehow guilty all at the same time.
I worked for a law firm for eight years and hated it because I never felt valued by the organization. I wanted to quit throughout these eight years but never did because I was afraid to loose the income I needed to pay for the obligations I had accumulated. And so I existed in a state of limbo where I forced myself to work for an organization that did not value me and that I intensely disliked. I wonder if this idea of loyalty somehow influenced me to stay with this law firm. If true, the fact that I was loyal to someone who did not seem loyal to me in return suggests to me that this strategy is flawed. It seems that loyalty in certain situations appears and feels on some level to be virtuous but is actually a self defeating manipulation. Similar to my father’s employer the law firm eventually laid me off in 2009 during the great recession. At first I felt liberated but then felt like I had been screwed. All those years of loyalty were wasted years in many respects. I also question what exactly I was being loyal to. Again, there seems to be this larger, universal, contractual sense to loyalty at play here.
Is loyalty for suckers? In many ways I think my uncle was right. I suppose I am a sucker if I chose to be loyal to someone who has not earned my loyalty. There certainly is a place for loyalty when it derives from a reciprocal relationship of mutual trust and respect. But I can see now that loyalty for the sake of loyalty itself (perhaps this in the universal loyalty I touched upon) is definitely for suckers. A person who adopts this philosophy is probably an easy target for any person, corporation or other organization that wants to take advantage of it.
I am 44 years old. If you were to ask me my top ten life lessons off the top of my head here is what I would probably come up with:
- Don’t worry about what other people think of you. I spent far too much of my time worrying about this. So much so that I lost sight of myself and what I wanted out of life. I only really came to terms with this fact a few years ago. There is a big part of me that wants to regret this but regret is a facet of my ego and my ego is what convinced me to prioritize other people’s thoughts over my own.
- In terms of a career Do what you enjoy. Don’t do what you don’t like doing. Again, because I worried about what would make me look good in the eyes of others I made choices based on what I thought they would like. As a result I worked a miserable job I hated for eight years only to be laid off and unemployed / underemployed for a few years before I got back on my feet. I am now in the position of reaching for what I enjoy but it feels like I am racing against the clock. Far better to figure this one out in your twenties or earlier if possible.
- Avoid debt. I wish I was better about this early on as well. Any debt you take on is lost opportunity. It is better to have compound interest working for you with investments than against you with debt.
- If you never felt like you pleased your parents in childhood it probably will never happen when you are an adult. As such, stop trying and free up that energy for your passions. It might actually improve your relationship with your parents.
- Don’t associate with people who make you feel bad about yourself. You can recognize them if you pay attention to your feelings. Trust that your feelings are real, there for a reason and never wrong.
- Loyalty is earned. For so long I felt I needed to be loyal to things and people who had no loyalty to me. As such the rewards I thought this loyalty would bring if I just hung in there long enough never materialized until I was able to let go of this obligation.
- You are entitled to happiness. Everyone is. If you are unhappy there is a reason for it and it probably is not because you are bad, wrong or otherwise defective.
- Don’t judge other people. People who judge other people judge themselves equally as harshly. They do this because they were judged harshly and when they judge others harshly the people they judge will judge others and continue to spread the virus.
- Shame is toxic. Shame is the source and result of judgment. It is also the origin of misplaced loyalty and probably debt.
- Religion and politics are voluntary. Because no one can know what’s on the other side you should not and probably cannot force you beliefs or values on others. Nor should you judge another person harshly for believing something contrary to what you believe. If you find yourself doing this perhaps you should ask yourself what am I ashamed of? Who judged me harshly when they should have had compassion for me?
Shame derails critical thinking because truth is not the shame ego’s main objective. The shame ego’s main objective is looking good in the eyes of others. Put another way, the main objective of the shame ego is to avoid humiliation. Put another way still, the shame ego’s worst fear is being humiliated.
If the shame ego were primarily interested in the truth and thought critically it could hear both sides of a debate and determine the winner objectively based on the merits of each argument alone. But with political debates in particular I find that most people do not evaluate the arguments primarily on their merits but rather based upon pre-existing loyalties to political camps and not wanting to appear foolish in the eyes of the opposing camp. I do this myself. When I do this I must realize that I am allowing my shame ego to take control of my thought process and am therefore not thinking critically.
In this context, loyalty can be a tricky subject. Most people think loyalty is an admirable quality. I would say, generally speaking this is correct. However, shame egos are more apt to invest their loyalty for the wrong reasons in the wrong causes. For example, a shame ego might be loyal to a cause because it does not want to appear to be following the wrong or loosing side. It is not so much that the shame ego ignores its critical thinking, but rather the shame ego prioritizes not appearing foolish or wrong above what cause actually deserves or has earned its loyalty. This is why (I believe) arguments involving religion and politics devolve into shouting matches and ad hominem attacks. These type of arguments are about personal beliefs and therefore in some ways define the people making them. If their beliefs are wrong then they as people are wrong. Shame egos cannot abide by this.
Critical thinking requires dismissing shame in order to be objective but a shame ego will not allow this. As such, a person with a shame ego never properly learns to think critically and therefore experiences a warped sense of reality and truth. At its heart, the shame ego is afraid of truth because the shame ego ultimately believes itself to be wrong. As such the truth (it believes) is humiliating and must be avoided, hidden or dismissed. In fact, a shame ego will sometimes deny truth even to itself and will react with anger or aggression against the people who insist on the truth.
Rather than feel the discomfort a shame ego experiences when confronted with the truth it will avoid the truth and therefore is incapable of thinking critically. In order for a person to think critically he must free himself from his shame ego. He must embrace the truth and allow himself to experience humiliation in a supportive, non-judgmental environment. If he is judged then the humiliation becomes too harsh and he will retreat back to the protection of the shame ego. But if he is not judged and can take in the compassion in the face of the feeling of humiliation, then he can start to have compassion for himself. This is the first step in the arduous road to liberation.