What Are You Loyal To?

Photo from the New York Times

Photo from the New York Times

Right after the atrocities committed by white supremacists in Charlottesville recently, I went to my office and bumbled through my day, replaying the videos I’d seen over and over again in my head.

I checked my LinkedIn account like I do most days, and as I was scrolling through my feed, I noticed something: there was no mention of what had happened in Charlottesville. Nothing. It was as if it didn’t exist.

This was very troubling to me. It was troubling to me that, even though all of us are impacted in some way by the uncloaked racism sweeping our country, no one was mentioning it - myself included.

I don’t work in an office with other people, but I could imagine that what I was seeing on LinkedIn was indicative of what was happening in workplaces all over: silence. Ignoring.

People everywhere were being asked to compartmentalize their feelings or reactions, which is all too common in our professional world today. We’re still extremely uncomfortable allowing in things like rage and sorrow, even as they beat down the doors of our modern, airy office buildings.

The language we use for things is very important, and we’re surrounded by euphemisms, empty words, and blatant lies. Spin is everywhere, and that can make it really hard to recognize what’s true.

In the President’s first statement about what was going on in Charlottesville, he condemned the violence on “many sides,” avoiding calling these protesters from Unite the Right what they really are (neo-Nazis).

On a different level, I hear about truth-avoidance in the workplace all the time. I hear from people who suspect that they’re going to be let go but can’t get a straight answer from their supervisors or HR. I hear from people who get passive aggressive emails from their co-workers or managers even as these people pretend like everything's fine when they’re in person. I read employee handbook policies that make my eyes bleed because they literally do not say anything of import.

If your career, personal life, or the world around you feels totally confusing and unreal right now, I want to offer you a thought experiment that gave me tremendous clarity recently.

Photo by Michael Heuser on Unsplash

I was listening to a podcast interview with one of my radical new heroes, Derrick Jensen, and he was talking about the abuse he suffered as a child, the work he’s done to heal in adulthood and how this relates to his activism now.

He said something that felt so clear and powerful to me, like truth always does:

“The solutions only become really muddy when you want to save the victim and placate the perpetrator, too.”

He went on to talk about how easy life becomes when we’re clear about where our loyalties lie. If we’re loyal to the company, we might do one thing. But if we’re loyal to the employees, or to the earth, or to ourselves, we might do other things. Not always, but sometimes.

This statement helped me write this blog post, which I’d been mulling over for days but just couldn’t get clear on until I realized that what was causing me to feel confused was my desire to be liked and not offend people.

I was acting out of loyalty to things like white privilege and what others think of me, not loyalty to the things I know in my heart are actually important, like justice and the right for all of us to live embodied lives.

Here are some examples of things many of us might be loyal to without realizing it:

  • White privilege or ingrained racist beliefs
  • Our social status
  • Money
  • Comfort, even at the expense of others
  • The belief that there’s not enough food/water/etc. for all of us

Here are a few things I know many of you aspire to be loyal to, as do I:

  • The dream of a full, meaningful, beautiful life
  • The well-being of our planet
  • The health and safety of all living beings

“The solutions only become really muddy when you want to save the victim and placate the perpetrator, too.”

So, what are you loyal to?

Is part of you trying to save yourself and placate the perpetrators, too?

Photo by Ryan Holloway on Unsplash

Photo by Ryan Holloway on Unsplash

If you’re reading this and you’re a professional in today’s workforce, it’s incredibly important that you be clear about where your loyalties lie and take action from that place. I’m still learning how to do this, and it doesn’t always look very elegant, but we simply have to keep trying.

This exercise was clarifying for me because I see now how many of my decisions were borne out of a loyalty to things I’m ashamed to have been loyal to - things like social status, money, and comfort.

When I reinvigorate my loyalty to the earth, to the well-being of people like you, and to my vision of a full, embodied life, my priorities change.

I write blog posts that are meaningful to me. I approach a webinar differently. I find ways to cut out waste, say ‘hi’ to a neighbor, and move my body.

Again: “The solutions only become really muddy when you want to save the victim and placate the perpetrator, too.”

How can you clarify your loyalties in this day and age so that you can take actions that are in alignment with your own personal integrity?

The integrity is there, I know it - it’s in each of us, and it wants to guide us to a safer, more just and healthy world.