We human beings are selfish little creatures. Our whole lives we struggle to be altruistic, caring, thinking of others before we think of ourselves – fighting our natural instincts constantly. Although being selfish is healthy to a certain extent, we pretend to aspire to be noble and respectable.
And then, frustratingly, we reach our limitations. It seems that we are only willing to help others when it does not require too big of a discomfort for ourselves. Don’t get me wrong, I am not talking about grave stuff like helping minorities when being bullied. Naturally, a heroic action like rescuing someone in distress wouldn’t make us feel too uncomfortable, would it? No, it’s more the little things that prove our selfishness, those related to empathy. Maneuvering ourselves into an inconvenient situation just for the sake of being loyal to a friend, or even for just a value, seems to be too much of an effort.
So where exactly is the line? Trying to analyze our behavior, the key factor in deciding for or against standing up is the answer to one simple question: How much am I concerned? If something does not directly affect us personally, we usually don’t care too much. Even less, if intervening would suddenly draw the attention towards us.
Throughout the tedious process of my attempt to grow up I have learned that I cannot expect too much of others, and by no means can I predict their behavior from my own. Everybody acts as an individual with their own values and norms. Conversely, we cannot and should not determine our own actions by those of others, but be true to our own values.
So far so good. But do we not have some obligations towards our friends? Like, standing up for them and defending them, or simply being loyal to them when someone treats them bad? And does this mean those who don’t do that are not our “real” friends?
Being as lucky as I am, having at least three or four of these really loyal friends for decades, doesn’t save me from the catch of not always having them around. Who is always there, however, is a bunch of equally awesome people with whom I get along really well, with whom I have an amazing time, and who are usually there for me when I need them – with one distinction. While the first group of friends and I feel for each other, get upset when the other one is treated badly and would fight for each other without hesitation; for the latter group of friends, loyalty seems to end when it enters the zone of their own discomfort. Should I consider them as less friend-worthy now?
Let’s face it, it has never helped to think in black and white. Sure, it is honorable and rewarding to jump into a friendship head over heels, but how much can you expect from people you’ve known for maybe a year, or two, if it bears consequences for themselves? Consequences for their reputation, and their social integrity?
But now comes the twist: Let’s stop calling it loyalty. There are people who would always just fight bitterly for the “right” thing. Someone is treated wrong? They don’t know the person very well? They don’t care! The right cause makes them stand up, get loud, fighting the everlasting fight of good versus evil. Even if it might cause discomfort for them – they usually don’t think about it.
Let’s sum it up. I understand there are differences in weighing the personal consequences. I understand friends don’t love you less if they choose themselves over you. I understand some people don’t look at it from the right-versus-wrong angle. That’s life. But even if I cannot claim loyalty, I still demand moral values. Whether I am concerned myself, or not at all, I call for the right action. It might be annoying for some, hopeless with others, and definitely frustrating for me most of the time. But I don’t want to accept that we live in a world where everyone just thinks of themselves without even trying to get a different angle on things.
If we just changed two things, we could make everyone’s and our own lives a little bit better (yes, aside from complaining loudly about society’s flaws I can also think of useful hints for erasing them): When someone is treated badly, but you are not directly concerned, the first question you should ask yourself is: How would you feel in their situation? Would it improve if you had someone bolstering you? Then don’t hesitate, do it! If you really don’t care and you consider yourself as strong enough to deal with everything yourself, here’s the second question: What is the right thing to do? There you go. And you know what, you might even collect some karma-points!
Yes, loyalty seems to be threatened with extinction. And anyway, if everyone thinks of themselves, everyone is thought of, right? But if we think of others as well, everyone is thought of at least twice already! You, too. And more attention is always good, huh?