Loyal And True

Anyone who knows me knows I am an Oklahoma State Cowboys fan. As our alma mater says, I am “loyal and true.” Singing that along with more than 50,000 other Cowboys Saturday night, then watching our beloved team fall to the visitors, reminded me what it means to be loyal and true.

Loyalty is often misunderstood. It is seldom displayed during good times. Football fans who cheer for their team when they are winning are not displaying loyalty. They may be loyal, but that is not what is being shown when the team is winning. Loyalty is demonstrating commitment to someone or something during difficulty.

Commitment can be defined as an engagement or obligation that restricts freedom of action. It’s the restriction on our freedom of action that I would like to focus on. European philosophers Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau argued about the nature of man. Rousseau thought that man is naturally good. Hobbes believed that humans struggle and fight against each other in their pursuit of self-interest.

I tend to agree with Hobbes. Our natural inclination seems to be self-interested. Loyalty (and the commitment that accompanies it) requires us to choose to do things that are not in our rational self-interest. Parents who sacrifice things they would like to have so they can provide more for their children. Caring for a spouse when they become ill. A child who moves closer to an aging parent to help them out. All these (and many more) are things that require sacrifice and are not in the person’s primary self-interest. Kind of like continuing to be a fan even when your team isn’t winning. 

Loyalty requires us to act against our own self-interest by supporting and sacrificing for others. Loyalty also requires us to act in the others best interest—which sometimes is the “during difficulty” part. “Blind” loyalty is choosing allegiance over objectivity and it is not loyalty at all. A battered woman who protects her husband when police arrive in answer to a domestic violence call. People who defend bad behavior by political leaders knowing it is bad behavior. These actions are not true loyalty.

Sometimes being loyal means holding someone accountable for their behavior. We do this not out of spite or judgment, but out of love. Like the passionate fan who sticks with their alma mater through good and bad (that’s me), being loyal to another person starts with true care for them. True commitment.

When we truly care about someone—are loyal to them­, we are willing to face difficult things with them. We are willing to tell them when their behavior or choices are unhealthy or unethical. We are willing to help them set boundaries, or, in some cases, set boundaries ourselves. We are committed to them, and it leads us to do things that are difficult but in their best interest.

Leaders have a responsibility to be loyal to the people they serve. Sticking up for them. Supporting them. Sacrificing for them. Giving them the praise when things go well and taking the heat when they don’t. Also, holding them accountable and having difficult conversations when necessary. We must demonstrate both loyalty and truth for it to result in individuals achieving more of their potential and feeling valued. Loyal and true may be the Cowboy alma mater, but it is also the Bison Way.