What does being loyal do for the loyal person?
April 25, 2016 5:39 PM   Subscribe

Loyalty is considered a virtue. However, it doesn't seem to benefit the loyal person very much. If anything, they are much more likely to feel betrayed than their less-loyal counterparts. What does a loyal friend/partner/employee gain from being loyal?

Background - I have been "loyal to a fault" many times, and still haven't learned my lesson. I am looking for quotes, anything to make me feel better about this quality (almost universally considered to be good! That I get complimented on!) that seems to bring nothing but pain and disappointment to me, and I wish I could change.
posted by Fig to Human Relations (36 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure what you're asking... people are loyal, friendly, nice, whatever! because they just are... not for any benefit they might get out of it. If people have treated you badly because of your loyal personality, that's on them, not you. Other people's actions should not reflect on you as a person, only your reactions to their actions.
posted by patheral at 5:49 PM on April 25, 2016 [7 favorites]

Loyalty is like honesty, to me. It may give you some grief in the short term, but it builds up a "bank," if you will, of respect from others, and will allow you to be taken seriously or taken at your word when you demonstrate that you have it and you employ it.
posted by xingcat at 5:50 PM on April 25, 2016 [33 favorites]

I actually think this is true of all the virtues - they come with a price. In any given instance it would profit you more to abandon them and look out for yourself, and that's what makes them admirable: you (presumably) have a code to which you adhere, even in the face of pain and disappointment. The philosophy isn't "if I'm loyal to this person, it will definitely pay off for me," - the philosophy is "it's hard to be loyal, but I do it because it's the right thing, even though it might come with pain." You might *hope* that other people will be loyal in return - you can search out people who strike you as loyal and make an extra effort to keep them in your life - but the fact that you are open to the possibility that being loyal might hurt is what makes you loyal. Otherwise you're just being a regular person.

Mostly people seem to root their ethics in some form of the Golden Rule - I am acting in this way because it's how I wish everyone would act towards me - but I think it's really, really important to acknowledge that the Golden Rule does not come with a guarantee. You adhere to it because you believe it's the right thing to do, not because it's the most efficient way to get what you want, because it almost certainly isn't.

In other words, the reward is simply what comes of having a code and sticking to it. Whether you want to include loyalty in your code of ethics is a whole different question.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 5:57 PM on April 25, 2016 [42 favorites]

There's a certain amount of personal pride, too, in holding yourself to a standard you admire.

(On preview: What pretentious illiterate said.)
posted by mochapickle at 5:58 PM on April 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

I think having a feeling of loyalty reinforces your bond and attachment to someone. Knowing someone is loyal to you also bonds you closer to them. It increases trust, which helps you relax and be more open in their company. And this helps the whole dynamic open up and put both at ease.
posted by discopolo at 6:02 PM on April 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think Loyalty + Discernment is what you are looking for here.

Sometimes loyalty is doing the hard thing. If you are shitty to a waitress in front of me, I'm showing more loyalty towards you if I tell you the truth about that when you ask me to help justify your bad behavior.

Same thing if someone lies or cheats. It's more loyal to the offender's "best self" if you don't look pretend they did not do that Bad Thing they just did.

This is how I live with myself these days after not applying loyalty with discernment in the past and paying a very very high price for that. YMMV.
posted by jbenben at 6:03 PM on April 25, 2016 [8 favorites]

Loyalty is an "end in itself" not a "means to an end". Virtue is Its own reward.

(At least on a personal level. I work in Corporate America and have no such delusions of loyalty to my company. Regardless of what some lawmakers believe, corporations are not people. )
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 6:03 PM on April 25, 2016 [5 favorites]

It strikes me that your problem isn't the loyalty itself, it is that you need to choose more carefully to whom you are loyal.

To be honest, that's something I have a hard time with myself - if I get deep into an emotional relationship, I sometimes have some weird trust issues, precisely because I've also given my loyalty away too easily and gotten burned for it. However - I have found friends for whom my loyalty has inspired them to live up to it, and those people - including one man who once told me I was "the most loyal person I've ever met" - have definitely been worth it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:04 PM on April 25, 2016 [12 favorites]

Depending on what conception of loyalty is in question-- security, the lack of the need to constantly question anew, a shared history, a shared relationship, someone/thing to direct your loyalty towards (because everyone wants to direct themselves towards something "long term"). Loyalty can be good or bad but none of that says anything about your situation (or situations).
posted by Blitz at 6:11 PM on April 25, 2016

You know, if you've been hurt lots of times for being too 'loyal,' I would reconsider whether your loyalty really is loyalty. You might just be putting yourself in situations where you'll be exploited because the other person knows you won't leave them for it. I consider myself loyal to my friends, but they've earned that loyalty and could lose it if they treated me badly.
posted by crazy with stars at 6:21 PM on April 25, 2016 [20 favorites]

There is some research on the benefits of loyalty--it engenders more social support and engagement, which leads to lower rates of hypertension, diabetes, and heart attacks. Couples who are loyal in relationships are happier; people who stay at jobs for 5-10 years have higher rates of pay, and more productive, and are more creative than those who do a lot of job hopping, even in places (like Silicon Valley) where the prevailing wisdom is to leverage yourself into a new and better job early and often. See, for example, this WSJ article that summarizes some of the research.
posted by alligatorpear at 6:25 PM on April 25, 2016 [7 favorites]

I am looking for quotes, anything to make me feel better about this quality ... that seems to bring nothing but pain and disappointment to me, and I wish I could change.

I am loyal. It's sometimes a problem. Usually when it's a problem it's because someone has taken advantage of my good nature. And when it's a PROBLEM is when someone else makes that into a thing. Because at some level, part of the downside to being loyal is that, yes, sometimes people take advantage. But as far as I'm concerned, if most of the time that's not what's happening, on balance I am okay with it. Some people ("internet people" can be particularly nitpicky on topics such as this) will want to rub your face in "that time you were wrong" (i.e. you trusted someone and they let you down or played you for a fool) but eh, I get to live in my head and be a good friend to people (and it's returned to me) and I like living in that world where this is a thing to aspire to. Not everyone lives there. Other people have virtues that I do not and will never have. It takes all kinds.

I'd poke a little at why you feel like it's bringing you so much pain? Maybe you're holding on to long, or are getting into non-reciprocal situations? Or not checking in to see if maybe the person or thing you are loyal to is worth your time?

Mark Twain had a quote that I've liked: Loyalty to country always. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.
posted by jessamyn at 6:27 PM on April 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

The fact that loyalty does not provide an immediate benefit, and indeed often hurts, is exactly why it is a virtue. You are sacrificing your own self-interest for others. Ask your question with a different virtue: why is philanthropy considered virtuous? You rarely get any benefit from buying milk for a homeless man.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:30 PM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

No good deed will go unpunished, huh?
From your given question, the examples of loyalty, 'friend/partner/employee' are all external, interactive types of loyalty. One could be loyal to a cause, but loyalty in a relationship is the more common way we think about it.
but you can separate loyalty to others from the practice of the virtue, and find value there. you can be loyal to yourself just like you can be honest with yourself. Like the Green monster said above, its own reward. If that's not happening for you, maybe you are choosing to be loyal to the wrong people or for the wrong reasons.

Here are 2 quotes:

“I may be stupid, as you say, to believe in honour and friendship and loyalty without price. But these are virtues to be cherished, for without them we are no more than beasts roaming the land.”
― David Gemmell, Shield of Thunder

“If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans.”
― James Herriot, All Creatures Great and Small
posted by TDIpod at 6:40 PM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Some kinds of loyalty are deep-seated, rooted in history or biological certainty. My brother and I are not friends, we are very different people and have little in common. But I am intensely loyal to him. We've been through a lot together. I would open a vein for him, and vice versa. Some of it is a love for my mother, but some of it is just him -- I love him. I read this poem a while ago -- and one line of it "we are primal particles" -- stuck in my mind. My brother and I are primal particles.

Also -- from the same poem -- coyote sometimes throws stars up into the sky. Sometimes being loyal to my brother makes sense, and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes it hurts me, especially when he doesn't respond to my efforts to try and find a connection, a friendship with him. There's no benefit to me in being loyal to him. I just am.
posted by OrangeDisk at 6:46 PM on April 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

Perhaps cynically, I think the word "loyalty" is the unit of measurement of asymmetrical social relations. When it's equal, it's affection, friendship, love.
posted by rhizome at 6:55 PM on April 25, 2016 [18 favorites]

Anecdotally, for me loyalty has resulted in paranoia and cynicism, but at least I can look at my reflection in the mirror with my head held high and I can sleep at night.

If you're an ethical person who has standards regarding integrity, loyalty provides an intrinsic reward in that you know *you* have made the right decision. Other people might notice that too, and that's where conflict or antagonism may begin.
posted by sara is disenchanted at 7:18 PM on April 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

This is sort of a weird answer - if being loyal is a bedrock principle of yours and you have honed a personal understanding of what that means in practice, it saves you a lot of time not agonizing over at least some tough decisions. Loyalty is a roadmap (one of many, but different than not having any).

"A man must have a code." Bunk Moreland
posted by sallybrown at 7:22 PM on April 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

Would it help to make a distinction between loyalty and blind loyalty?
posted by kapers at 7:30 PM on April 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

We might just be afraid of some scary vision of what happens if we're not loyal.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:18 PM on April 25, 2016

Several people have talked about loyalty as its own reward. I actually think it's important for strategic reasons instead: I want to be trusted, (so much of life is easier when people are just willing to take my word for stuff), and the only reliable way to be trusted is to actually *be* trustworthy. I think of things like loyalty or honesty as long term investments: be a decent person, be known as a decent person, worthwhile people will treat you accordingly because they want you around.

Being fickle and backstabby and lying can offer a lot of short-term advantages, (I've certainly been screwed over upon occasion by people like that), but based on my encounters with it, it looks like an exhausting lifestyle. Intrigue and lies and whatnot are real work too, and they make for a life with a lot more uncertainty.

That said, I would echo the advice a lot of a lot of earlier posters though: you do need to be careful who you're loyal *to*, and there's a difference between behaving honorably and just letting people take advantage of you. If you're getting burned a lot, it may be time to reconsider who you're trusting in either your personal or professional life, and what boundaries you are setting to protect yourself. (Having good boundaries isn't disloyal, it's important for everybody - even the people who don't want them.)
posted by mordax at 9:27 PM on April 25, 2016 [9 favorites]

What does a loyal friend/partner/employee gain from being loyal?

posted by flabdablet at 10:09 PM on April 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

Now and again you can get away with some really heinous shit if people think you're a "good egg".

To be serious; It's just way, way less hassle if you treat people with kindness, respect, honesty and loyalty. Sometimes you get burned but all the other times you don't have to waste energy wondering and can just go right ahead and assume people will react positively to your actions.
posted by fullerine at 4:07 AM on April 26, 2016 [4 favorites]

Loyalty can be a key relationship shock-absorber as well. When something goes wrong, or the going gets tough, loyalty means you stick with it. This obviously runs the risk of being hurt, or feeling foolish, but it also can mean that you get to keep relationships that are important to you and would otherwise be broken. I think there is a key connection between loyalty and what Brene Brown calls vulnerability, and how that is needed for to live a whole-hearted life.
posted by meinvt at 6:11 AM on April 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

Another way to think about this question is to consider the flip side: what does a person gain from thirty years spent accumulating a reputation for shiftiness and betrayal?

Sure, there's a tiny chance of becoming CEO of Enron or Vice President of the United States, but it doesn't work for the vast majority of those who try it.
posted by flabdablet at 6:41 AM on April 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

The benefits of loyalty are not obvious until your chips are really, really down - but then they are /amazing/. People are more likely to be loyal to you when you are loyal to them.
posted by corb at 6:42 AM on April 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

What does a loyal friend/partner/employee gain from being loyal?

I think you are conflating two very different things here. I think loyalty to people (friends/partners/family) is important; of course it can cause pain, but everything can cause pain, and the benefits are irreplaceable. Loyalty to institutions is (in my view) just stupid. People feel loyal to employers who one day call them in and say "Sorry, we're downsizing, here's your exit package, don't let the door hit you in the ass." You owe employers an honest day's work for an honest day's pay (and by "an honest day's work" I don't mean "whatever the employer demands of you"); you don't owe the government anything except taxes. Conflation of institutions with people is one of the besetting sins of our era (cf. Citizens United).
posted by languagehat at 8:37 AM on April 26, 2016 [5 favorites]

I've been loyal and manipulated by people who didn't deserve it. The people who came through for me, were those that I was also loyal to, but also had wonderful sense of respect and good boundaries, and were able to help process the events with me. I became even more loyal to them after, once I had much better, stalwart examples of people in my life.

I don't believe it's a zero-sum game, but I support what everyone else has said about loyalty + discernment. I'd rather be like the wonderful people in my life, and some of one of those qualities that they exhibit is loyalty.
posted by yueliang at 8:48 AM on April 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Personally I think loyalty is its own reward- I want to be a certain kind of person, so I try to be.

But loyalty and kindness also have tangible rewards, that may not be obvious, but they are there-

Just the other day I had to hire a freelancer for a lucrative contract, and I chose a person who had been kind and lovely and done me a huge professional favour... in 2001. Fifteen years later I finally had a chance to give him something of value, and I remembered him. I was so happy to be able to do something nice for him.

I know another freelancer who has great technical skills, but he's disloyal- a few years ago he sold me out professionally by taking credit for work I did. A mutual friend recently needed a freelancer and asked what that guy was like to work with. I answered honestly- his skills are fine, but his self-interest is toxic and you can't trust him; on the other hand, this other person's skills are also fine and he's lovely, kind, and trustworthy. The kind guy got the job. The sellout will never even know it happened, but his disloyalty back in 2014 cost him a job in 2016.

All that said, I know some people who are kind in ways that feel hollow- trying to manipulate others into helping them, and that's not that great. But being truly kind and loyal, both up and down the ladder, makes people like and trust you, and then they will often show great loyalty in return.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 9:08 AM on April 26, 2016 [12 favorites]

Another vote for loyalty to people being an entirely different beast from loyalty to institutions.

One of the greatest lies of our times is that being loyal to Institution's Values with Get You Places Because You Are Loyal. I can go on for a very long time indeed about the employees, at all levels from new hires to 30-years-of-experience directors, who have been betrayed by this. Have you ever noticed that the very same people who tout loyalty to instutions also tout "a healthy distance from co-workers" and "taking the higher road"? It's like the devilish angel whispering in our ears: "forget about people, about community, about dirty little emotions, you have a higher calling to Institution! Give your passion to Institution! Loyalty reaps benefits! Emotional ties slow you down!"

Loyalty is often hand-in-hand with sincerity, trust and vulnerability. Trust is golden. Sincerity/truthfulness has always been a paramount virtue. Vulnerability is the necessary quality to being loyal, sincere, and trusting, all of which make you trustworthy.

Think of everyone you trust. You would go the extra mile for them. Trustworthy people will go the extra mile for you, too, especially if you're genuine. I have met a few shark-type businesspeople who play-act sincerity; it always bites them in the ass. It can take years, but boy, the wolf in sheep's clothing act bites them in the ass.
posted by fraula at 9:46 AM on April 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

I thought of a quote for you...

Live your life in such a way that if someone speaks badly of you, no one will believe them.

I'm not sure who said it, but that's why people are loyal, honestly, faithful, &c... because that's how they are, and if they stick to how they are when things go bad, then those who know them won't believe anything bad about them. And those who do believe the lies, weren't their friends to begin with.

That's one of the reasons why I try to live up the virtues anyway, plus, as someone mentioned above, being malicious looks to be exhausting work.
posted by patheral at 11:33 AM on April 26, 2016 [7 favorites]

Being loyal does not mean being everyone's bitch. I totally hear you and have often felt the same way, but I also know that when the chips are down, I am given support and the benefit of the doubt that other people do not necessarily get. So it pays off when the pay off really makes a difference in life, when other people would have no hope of a solution at all because they aren't getting the benefit of the doubt or being cut a break.

Finding a way to be at peace with this is not likely to be solved by a single ask. It has taken me years to see the upside and stop feeling like a chump. Part of that is just the passage of time -- seeing what goes around, comes around. Part of that has been perhaps what other people are calling loyalty with discernment.

Loyalty is often framed in either/or terms. It doesn't have to be. You need to figure out how to find symbiotic situations and ask "what's in it for me?" You do not have to lie, steal or backbite to quit feeling like a chump. You can learn to give what you can spare and stop "giving until it hurts" and measuring your virtue by how much you are suffering.
posted by Michele in California at 12:10 PM on April 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

That I get complimented on!

If someone was out-and-out complimenting me for being loyal to them in particular, I'd really take a close look at what was going on in our interactions.

You seem like the sort of person who finds it very important to be extremely loyal, and some people will take advantage of that to put you in situations that are not good for you.
posted by yohko at 5:33 PM on April 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

I liked languagehat's distinction between loyalty to people and loyalty to institutions. For me I think I'd slice it up between loyalty to people versus loyalty to principles.

There are very few people I'd ever think of myself as being in loyalty to -- my nearest and dearest. That kind of loyalty of service, like a knight was supposed to have for his lord, is really tricky. Conflicting loyalties are a thing and loyalty to a flawed human being is tricky and how a person perceives loyalty may not be how it's meant (e.g., acting in loyalty to someone's best interests, even if it's not what the person thinks they want, even if I am somehow provably correct, may well not be perceived positively). I kind of think loyalty to people is like unconditional love - good for one's own progeny but rarely a positively/obviously/easily actionable value in most of life.

On the other hand, loyalty to principles is a different thing. Maybe like the difference between having doctors swear a professional oath, rather than personal oaths. It means I get to choose my friends, but I don't get to choose to whom to behave with integrity and basic respect for their humanity. Because actually that's not a personalized fealty to another individual but a loyalty to my own values, to not treating as others as I wouldn't want to be treated, etc.

I'm not Christian but I think of (my understanding) of what Jesus said about not being able to serve two masters, about needing to choose between one's own family and the church. Loyalty to people is a tricky game and risks turning another human into a kind of idol. But loyalty to a higher principle can result in being the kind of person you wish to be, whether or not anyone else is looking and whether or not anyone else is enjoying the profile benefit of your loyalty.

Is that a reward? I would agree with others that it can simplifiy certain decisions, can bring external rewards (the benefit of the doubt, the confidence of others), and I think it can be its own benefit.

From the Jewish side, there is a idea that's almost nothing is more precious than having a good name, than making your own name a good one. I think of that too. That's very different from meaning everyone likes you or you get tangible rewards, whether material or relationship.
posted by Salamandrous at 2:36 AM on April 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Probably because for me it most often comes up at work, I typically consider loyalty to be something that can hold a team together. Working in a group of people where everyone has got each others' back can be a beautiful thing. I've never served in the military, but I'd imagine that this kind of team loyalty would be very important at the platoon level, especially for the people on the front lines.

I agree that not everyone deserves loyalty. It's definitely a two-way street. I just saw this the other evening on _GoT_: a knight pledged loyalty to someone, and it was apparently an explicit, formal thing: the knight pledged she'd die to protect her liege, etc. And to accept, the liege had to respond by pledging assurances that the knight would eat meat at their table, and would never be charged with a dishonorable task. I don't remember the details, but I thought it was interesting that they seemed to have formalized 'loyalty' into a kind of mutually beneficial contract.

I believe it's been noted that loyalty is an important part of reputation. My favorite quote on this is Tony Montana in Scarface: "All I have in this world is my balls and my word - and I don't break 'em for no-one". It can be an interesting exercise to simply ponder all of the people in your life and think about how you perceive their reputation: how loyal are they, and where do their loyalties lie? How much do you trust them? How honest are they?
posted by doctor tough love at 8:49 AM on April 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

I often think about this radio-poem-thing by David Rakoff, about betrayal and the tortoise and scorpion:
So what can we learn from their watery ends? Is there some lesson on how to be friends? I think what it means is that central to living, a life that is good is a life that's forgiving. We're creatures of contact. Regardless of whether we kiss or we wound, still we must come together.

Though it may spell destruction, we still ask for more, since it beats staying dry, but so lonely on shore. So we make ourselves open, while knowing full well it's essentially saying, please, come pierce my shell.
posted by nicebookrack at 11:07 AM on April 27, 2016

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