MEASURING LOYALTY: THE MAGNITUDE OF ATTRACTION

“If you are not too long, I will wait for you all my life.”
Oscar Wilde
Remember the feats of Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Duke Snyder? Equally as important as who they were and what they accomplished was their respective associations: The Yankees, Giants, Dodgers. And it stayed that way, to the end. The Tonight Show, starring Johnny Carson was always on NBC, democrats and republicans each repeatedly voted their party lines, Henry Kissinger was a Harvard professor; and people remained married for decades! The more things changed, the more they remained the same!
The magnetic attraction responsible for that paradox has been called, loyalty. A continuous reaffirmation of identity, loyalty strengthens bonds between people, encourages flexibility of behavior and, more subtlety allows for mistakes without abandonment. Members of a relationship are encouraged to make new choices of behavior in order to improve a situation without fear of losing their chosen association.
For hundreds of years loyalty to groups and families has been a fundamental principle by which people lived their lives. Remaining, true to one's colors was a matter of honor; to say the least, in style. The advertising industry often used this concept to promote products. Recall, the "Tareyton" smoker with a black eye. Today, however, "loyalty" has taken a back seat to "personal aggrandizement." People would sooner switch than fight, not only in business-- where consumers instantly change identities and ideologies as a function of who is offering the best deal-- but in their personal, social and political lives!
Could you imagine Sir Lancelot threatening to leave King Arthur's court to obtain a better position in a rival kingdom? Instantly, upon believing they might achieve a better deal elsewhere, professional athletes change teams, managers sometimes do the same (with the exception of Yankee managers, where the owner does the changing for them), professors leave their colleges, voters desert their parties, husbands and wives abandon one another; and occasionally, a famous talk show host changes networks.
In essence, rather than remaining in their present contexts and trying to improve the way they relate, people abandon their former associations and enter into new ones, which are likely to be temporary as well. This "free agent" lifestyle, though initially attractive, comes with a price tag: It works only when things are going well. As soon as problems arise, however, it fails, because, it provides no context for flexibility of responses that could resolve difficulties. If you reach an impasse, you simply move on. This in contrast to the context of loyalty, in which strong bonds of relating develop as people generate new choices of behavior that help overcome temporary setbacks.
Families that relate effectively, happily, weave a web of loyalty among father, mother and children. Certainly in our complex society there are circumstances-- some of which are life-threatening-- which make divorcing inevitable. However, too often, divorce occurs when the "free agent" bell tolls, calling for immediate personal gratification above loyalty. This can adversely affect not only the relationship between parents, but also that between parent and child. There are countless examples of divorced fathers who, after remarrying simply abandon the children from their first marriage, either at the behest of their new spouse, or as a function of poor time management. Children who are victims of this circum- stance find it difficult to understand and practice loyalty.
When the going gets tough, how can people remain loyal?

  • 1- Consider the JFK Principle. Ask not what others can do for you, but...what you have done to show appreciation for what has occurred. That is, begin by emphasizing the positive aspects of a given situation.
  • 2- Negotiate improvement. Reaffirm your loyalty in a particular context by specifically indicating how things could improve. What behavior would you prefer having-- in a marriage, for example-- in place of the one in question? What are you willing to change about your behavior in order to get what you want?
  • 3- Create your own traditions. Identify and share the unique features of a particular relationship to which you are loyal. What makes it special only serves to reinforce the bond. Keep the lid on. Retain the unique features within the relationship. Remaining private makes it more esoteric. Going public leads to comparisons and complaints; and it undermines trust and corrodes the bonds of loyalty.