Tag Archives: pleasing people

Loyalty: Weapon or Tool?

I’ve been thinking about loyalty recently. Loyalty is one of my bigger rabbit holes. I most often use the term when I’m beating myself up. A nasty little internal voice frequently hisses “Disloyal!” in my ear. This happens so constantly, in fact, that I’m bored. I’ve decided to unpack the concept of loyalty, spread it out, let the cat sniff at it, and either own my own disloyalty without shame or permanently silence that particular internal accusation.

The first thing I notice is that I want to be loyal. Loyalty is a virtue. Good, loving people are loyal. I certainly want to be a loyal family member, friend and partner. Loyalty has always been an important part of my identity, which is why it’s such an effective lash for me. What’s more shameful and ugly than disloyalty?

I don’t want to be shameful and ugly. If I am shameful and ugly, I certainly don’t want anyone to find out.

Loyalty, then, is something that depends on what onlookers think about my behavior and choices.

Before I’ve even crawled into the mouth of the rabbit hole I’ve moved out of my power. Interesting.

Photo by Kevin Quezada on Unsplash

Tuesday morning I took my cup of tea and spent two hours with dictionary, thesaurus and my laptop looking at poetry, quotes, memes, definitions and articles. I read about families, patriotism and dogs. I discovered that 80% of results returned for a search on loyalty have to do with manipulating customer and product loyalty. Of course. What a world.

At the end of that two hours, I felt no wiser. I had some notes, but I still didn’t have a clear idea of what loyalty really is, what it looks like, what it feels like to give or receive it, and how it overlaps with trust, authenticity, truth, enabling, coercion and control. I can point to people in my life I feel loyalty for, and I can point to people who I feel are loyal to me, but the truth is I don’t trust myself on this issue. Maybe my confusion means I am, in fact, shamefully disloyal. A humbling and humiliating thought.

At the same time, would I feel so torn apart by family and personal social dynamics if I was thoroughly disloyal? My sense of loyalty to others has given me much anguish over the years. Surely if it was absent in me I wouldn’t struggle so hard with it.

Simply defined, loyalty is a strong feeling of support or allegiance. That definition leaves me even more clueless than I was before. It has to be more complicated than that, doesn’t it?

Well, doesn’t it?

Is it just me, or does the cultural definition of loyalty consist of a much more convoluted hairball of expectations, assumptions and false equivalencies?

I often use back doors when I feel stuck. My two hours of research did give me some ideas about what loyalty is not, at least in my mind. But already I can see that others might disagree. Still, that’s why we have dictionaries and definitions.

Loyalty cannot be slavery or prostitution. If I have to compromise my integrity in order to fulfill someone else’s expectation of loyalty, it’s no longer a virtue, but an abuse and manipulation. True loyalty must be freely and heartfully given. Authentic loyalty can’t be bought, sold, stolen or owed. It’s not demonstrated by obedience or compliance. If it’s not free and spontaneous, it’s only a sham, an empty word that sounds great but has no substance. Loyalty is not a weapon. It’s a gift.

Loyalty is not a weapon. It’s a gift.

Said another way, from a perspective of power (and you know how much I think about power!), loyalty is a tool of power-with, not a weapon of power-over.

Photo by Seth Macey on Unsplash

Loyalty is not blind. Part of its value is its clarity. We prize it so highly because seeing and being seen clearly, warts and all, and demonstrating or receiving loyalty in spite of it is an act of strength and love. In that case, compassion, tolerance and respect are all involved in loyalty. It follows, then, that loyalty does not require agreement. I can feel entirely loyal to a loved one while disagreeing with some of their choices and beliefs.

Loyalty does not imply denial, arguing with what is or colluding in rewriting history in order to sanitize it. Loyalty is not a right or an obligation.

In fact, the thesaurus suggests the word “trueness” as a synonym for loyalty. Interesting. Isn’t trueness the same as authenticity? I count on those who are loyal to me to tell me the truth of their experience with me and of me. I count on them to trust me with their thoughts, feelings, concerns and observations. I count on them to ask me questions about my choices, and to forgive me when I’m less than perfect. I hold myself to the same standards. This can mean a hard conversation now and then, and uncomfortable vulnerability and risk, but real loyalty is not cheap.

The thesaurus also supplies the word “constancy” as a synonym for loyalty. Constancy is an old-fashioned word these days, but it leapt out at me because consistency is very important to me. I’ve had some experience with Jekyll-and-Hyde abuse patterns in which the goalposts and rules constantly change without notice, keeping me nicely trapped in trying to please people who have no intention of ever being pleased no matter what I do. Loyalty is not present one day and absent the next, then present again, then unavailable. That kind of “loyalty” is an abuse tactic.

As always, the construct of loyalty is two-sided. There’s the loyalty that extends between me and another, and then there’s the loyalty I extend to myself. This circles back around to slavery, prostitution and silence. If I have to betray my own needs or make myself small in order to earn or retain someone’s loyalty, something’s very wrong. If I’m called disloyal for saying no, having appropriate boundaries or telling the truth of my experience, then we are not in agreement about the definition of loyalty or I’m being manipulated (again). How loyal can I be to others if I fail to be faithful to myself?

True loyalty will never require me to make a choice between myself and another. Loyalty is strong enough to compromise and collaborate.

Loyalty becomes weaponized when we demand or command absolute agreement, devotion and unquestioning support. Then the concept becomes very black and white. This is demonstrated all over social media and media in general. One unwanted question or view leads to unmerciful deplatforming, silencing and a torrent of threats and abuse. Our loyalty is questioned and tested at every turn. We allow bullies, tyrants and personality-disordered people to achieve and maintain control, terrified of tribal shaming, being unpatriotic or being cast out of our social groups and communities.

The label of disloyalty is extremely powerful, but when I strip away all my confusions and distortions around loyalty and return to the simple definition, it’s not complicated at all. I certainly feel a strong allegiance and support for many individual people, for my community, for my country, for women, for writers, for this piece of land I live on, and for myself.

I suspect many others would like me to wear the label of disloyalty, but I can’t do a thing about their distortions except hand them a dictionary. Very elitist behavior, I’m sure you will agree. Not to mention the disloyalty of refusing to collude in my own shaming.

Being called disloyal doesn’t make it so.

That voice in my head has to do better, find a new slur. I’m willing to own being disloyal if I am, but my conclusion after this investigation is that mostly I’m not, and when I am, my greatest trespass is against myself. That I can do something about.

Loyalty. Setting down the weapon. Picking up the tool. My daily crime.

Photo by David Beale on Unsplash

All content on this site ©2018
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

Tolerance

I recently read a brilliant essay on tolerance that clarified for me why I haven’t always experienced successful outcomes while practicing it! Here’s a quote to think about from that article:

“[Tolerance] is an agreement to live in peace, not an agreement to be peaceful no matter the conduct of others. A peace treaty is not a suicide pact.” –Yonatan Zunger, ‘Tolerance is not a Moral Precept’

Photo by 小胖 车 on Unsplash

I’ve found that one of the many unpleasant effects of pleasing people, trying hard, being compliant and demonstrating unfailing compassion and kindness is that it’s stunted my emotional growth. It’s made me weak, naïve and dependent. It’s taught me to be powerless.

At this point in my life I’m making different choices, and as I do that I’m losing my fuzzy-headed, goody-two-shoes, sweet maiden aspect and becoming much clearer about who I am and what I believe in.

I’m not the only one, either. My second-hand exposure to social media through my partner, as well as my own reading of blogs, articles and essays, demonstrates loud and clear that many of us are in the process of refocusing our beliefs and values. Just yesterday I read an article about the devastating impact of the presidential election on close relationships and social media communities, as well as the way it’s opened up new connections.

As I listen, watch, read, write and think about it all, I return, again and again, to the conclusion  that we’re all dealing with the same underlying ideas and issues. I know there’s a lot of heated and poisonous ideology out there about race and ethnicity, sexuality and gender politics, religion, and even what we eat, but underneath all that distracting noise are the same issues of tolerance and intolerance, power and identity, and fear.

I’ve written previously about reciprocity. When I read Zunger’s blog, I immediately understood why my practice of tolerance has had, in some cases, quite devastating results. Once again, I was extending something I wasn’t receiving in return. Having been well trained (and slightly dim) it didn’t occur to me before that it’s not my responsibility to meet intolerance and disregard for my own boundaries with continuing tolerance. I’ve clung to the dangerous belief that if I just model and demonstrate well, the other party or parties will get it, and want to live in a more peaceful and effective way (my way, of course!)

After all, I don’t want to stoop to their level!

Ick.

Photo by John Salvino on Unsplash

This is a pretty effective set of shackles. Like many women, I’ve accepted them meekly for most of my life.

I’m bored with that now. It’s never worked well. It’s always left me terribly and painfully vulnerable. Turn the other cheek sounds like a lovely ideal, but in practice it sucks. In my study of combatives, I’ve found another option: Go in peace, but if a predator attacks you, be so explosively aggressive that you become the predator and they become the prey. Take them out of commission as fast and effectively as possible and get away from them. Permanently.

I know, I know. Unattractive. Not nice. Being part of the problem rather than the solution. Violence solves nothing.

Photo by Jason Blackeye on Unsplash

That’s all fine, if it works for you.

It hasn’t worked for me. I’m not sure why it’s unattractive and wrong to defend myself (or others), except, of course, from the predator’s point of view.

I don’t care what the predator thinks. Predators have to take their lumps, just like the rest of us.

It seems these days going in peace means having no opinions, asking no questions, voicing no disagreement, stating no beliefs and citing no personal experience. There’s sure to be someone who will step in and try to shut us down with violence, abuse and threats if we speak up.

I love the idea of tolerance as a peace treaty. It gives me everything I need. It accommodates my intention to seek and support connection. It allows me to continue to be completely disinterested in someone’s religion, sexual preference, gender experience, physical anatomy, race, ethnicity, diet or reproductive choices as a criterion for judgement. Tolerance as a peace treaty leaves ample room for the things I do care about—authenticity, compassion, power with rather than power over, the desire to connect. It’s a peace treaty I can honor whole-heartedly.

Right up until someone tells me to shut up and sit down, make myself small, stop asking questions. Right up until someone tells me what to believe, what spiritual framework to use, what to think, what agenda to accept, what to do with my body and what my boundaries should be. Right up until I feel uncomfortable, in fact. Then the peace treaty is broken, and I give myself permission to exit, quietly if allowed and like a fighting tigress if hindered.

Tolerance is not an expression of weakness. It’s not permission to use and abuse. It’s not an agreement to abdicate self-defense. It’s not a suicide pact.

Nobody is entitled to tolerance.

Tolerance is a gift that must be both given and received. Let’s be worthy of it.

Photo by Evan Kirby on Unsplash

All content on this site ©2017
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

Reciprocity 3: Reality Check

When I began this blog, I made a deal with myself to stop pleasing people. I hope you don’t think this decision led to happily ever after. Aside from a couple of notable exceptions, I’m not making friends and influencing people among my nearest and dearest. Still, I’m determined to grow and heal, whether it pleases others or not.

Lately, though, I’m getting bored with myself. I’m bored with my one-dimensional, civilized blogging. I’m bored with living up to the most mealy-mouthed, simpering word in the English language: Nice. I’m tired of hiding my rage, my passion and myself. This blog lacks vitality. It’s too fucking nice. It’s naïve, in the way women who try too hard are naïve. Women like me.

I can do much more than nice.

So, here’s this week’s post.

Reciprocity is a fine, fancy-sounding concept, but it’s not much use in the real world. The real world is all about Fuck You.

In the real world, men own women; parents own children; addictions, technology and the media own all of us and the biggest narcissists and bullies run the world. The real world runs on the power to control other people. This is because most people can’t control themselves, so naturally they take it out on everyone else. If we’re standing too close, it doesn’t matter who we are. Don’t kid yourself. Child, parent, lover, spouse, oldest and most loyal friend—it all counts for nothing and reciprocity is NOT in the equation.

Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

If you don’t believe this, just look at the way we treat our home, poor old weary Mother Earth. Everything we need is here. Everything is provided. What do we do? Take a crap on her and poison her and then complain because she doesn’t give us enough.

Gratitude? Dream on. Thankfulness? You must be kidding.

Reciprocity, connection, boundaries—sure, sure. But in the real world, if we rise from our sweet-smelling bed every day, brush our teeth with milk and honey, say a cheerful good morning and work as hard as we can at loving and supporting others with the hope we’ll get it back, we’re not very bright. You know what we’ll get back at the end of the day from most people?

Fuck You, that’s what.

Because we’re human. We’re not inexhaustible. We want to be loved, too. And eventually we’ll piss someone off. We’ll say the wrong thing, or we’ll be wearing the wrong color shirt, or (most unforgiveable of all) we’ll forget for a moment that we are not the priority.  That’s when it happens.

Photo by Peter Forster on Unsplash

An explosion.

Unforgettable words.

A scene.

A thrown dish.

A fat lip.

Fuck You.

And it’ll be our fault, because they haven’t had their coffee yet, or they’re hung over, or they hate the job they’re about to go to, or they didn’t get laid last night, or we’re failing our job to make their world a better place. We disappoint, we have a boundary, we say no, we dare to ask for something, we fail to comply. We make them crazy and we make them treat us like a piece of shit. As far as they’re concerned, we can take our love and shove it up our ass.

And if we’re stupid enough to persist in trying to understand, trying to placate or sympathize with a bad mood or a hard experience, trying to alleviate their pain, then we really will deserve what we get, which will be another

Fuck You.

AND if we think our willingness to forgive and repair will be reciprocated by theirs, if we think taking responsibility for whatever we did wrong (even though we’re clueless about what it was) will cause them to do the same, if we excuse and minimize and tell ourselves they didn’t (couldn’t) mean what they said, then we deserve every name, every accusation, every curse and every blow we take, because we’re stupid, we’re pathetic, we’re in denial and people like that get destroyed.

What is it about “fuck you” we’re failing to understand?

But don’t listen to me, sisters. Go ahead, spread that love around. If you keep demonstrating reciprocity and everything else you want, they’ll get it. They’ll love and value themselves the way you do. They’ll love and value you and your relationship. You’ll be able to make peace, keep it glued together, avoid further catastrophe if you try hard enough.

Sure you will. Good fucking luck with that.

Photo by Aimee Vogelsang on Unsplash

Women like me are in a very small cage made out of niceness. We’re constitutionally unable to do anything but be nice and try harder. We’ve been VERY well trained. We won’t make a scene. We’ll be an adult. We’ll forgive anything. We’ll never take our pain out on someone else, because we don’t want to make someone else feel the anguish we feel. We conspire to prioritize the needs of others. We don’t talk about our own despair and isolation. We don’t blame anyone outside ourselves for our difficulties, we just soldier on as well as we can, feeling guilty about our stress and failure and meekly accepting blame for everyone else’s shit and if, one day, we are hurt or frustrated beyond bearing and we DO explode, well, then there’s outrage and injury! Then there are trembling lips and tears! It’s for everyone else to put a needle in their arm, or powder up their nose, or soak their lives in alcohol. It’s everyone else’s right to melt down, lose control, self-destruct, say hateful things and generally behave like 3-year-olds. Women like me are for blaming, forgiving, cleaning up the mess and taking responsibility. We are NOT recipients of forgiveness.

Reciprocity, my ass.

Yeah, reciprocity is great, if you can get it. So’s a good fuck, a great job, a loyal friend, a new Subaru and a vacation in the Bahamas. In the meantime, wake up and live in the real world. Take your finger out, pull up your socks and move on. Live or don’t live. Love or don’t love. Look for reciprocity.  It’s out there.  Some people are adult enough to participate in it.  Never let it go if you find it.  But prepare for

Fuck You.

All content on this site ©2016
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted