Recently, my kids and I have been talking a lot about Colin Kaepernick, patriotism, and what it means to be “loyal” to something.
Tomorrow, I am planning on asking them if they think loyalty is an important value. I have no doubt many of them will say yes– we’ve been raised to see “loyalty” as one of the essential “good-human” values. Gryffindors are loyal. Good people are loyal.
And I can appreciate it. I also plan to surprise them with my own belief: I don’t know that I’m sold on the value of “loyalty,” at least not as we so often see it portrayed. That may not be a popular opinion (and, in fact, I imagine I have some of my higher-ups shaking), but let me explain.
While loyalty is defined as a feeling of “allegiance,” I have often found that people assume that loyalty means putting an organization or person above all other things– including personal values.
Sure, loyalty can mean standing with someone in their hour of need, showing forgiveness or the benefit of the doubt, or helping someone out when they ask. Sometimes, though, we use “loyalty” as a tool to manipulate. We are asked to put “loyalty to the party/group/job” over one’s own beliefs. We are called on to do things because we need to show “loyalty.”
And that’s where I draw the line. There is no organization I would lie for or to. There is no institution that I am so devoted to that I will not call it like I see it.
Here’s the thing: I am a firm believer that the way you show love and care is being honest and willing to critically analyze things. A misused culture of “loyalty” doesn’t necessarily lead to a supportive, collaborative environment. Instead, using loyalty as a tool to deflect criticism leads to complacency, power struggle, and a general sense of mistrust: Who is loyal to whom? Who is putting their loyalty to something above honesty? It’s not a very healthy environment to be in. It will quickly isolate people, or make people unwilling to share thoughts and opinions that could make the entire organization better;
So, I personally refuse to operate in a space where I am unable to voice my reasoned dissent. Frankly, I understand that the ability to willingly dissent based on my morals is tied to my privilege. I know that I have the socioeconomic and educational privilege to call out problems and handle myself financially if there were unfortunate or unjust ramifications from that.
Not everyone has that. Not everyone can afford to lose their job or take a pay cut or deal with what other consequences those in power like to dole out when it’s threatened. I am incredibly privileged in my ability to do so, so it would be a misuse of my privilege if I did not use it to stand with those who shared my values but could not speak up. If I don’t use my platform and the power to take a stand, then who else will?
So, if loyalty isn’t the answer, what is?
Personally, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to create cultures of belonging and trust. I attended a session on facilitating difficult conversations and building community with the amazing Ann Delehant. She shared the idea that trust is at the center of being both trustworthy and trusting. It means that not only must we be willing to be transparent and honest, but we also must be willing to trust that other people will do the same.
While I’m not sold on the value of blind loyalty, I am all for creating communities of belonging and trust. For me, that means being honest and upfront about intent, transparent about actions and mistakes, and willing to give and accept feedback to improve the overall group.
It also means coming to the table ready to listen and find solutions instead of pointing fingers and making accusations. Trust can’t be built when the person across the table already assumes that you’re lying. We can’t create
We can’t create collaborative, growing spaces if we all assume that anyone else is against us. Trust can only happen if there’s a mutual agreement that we all want the same outcome, even if we might disagree on the “how.” If one side is being dishonest about intent or refuses to dialogue with the other, how can we move forward?
With all that, here are my cards (career wise, anyway) laid out on the table: At the end of the day, I am here to support my students. I am willing to show support, put work in, and rally behind things that I truly believe will help my kids, their communities, and the greater good of public education. If I’m asked to do something that helps those causes and doesn’t compromise my values, great! If not, then I’m not here for it and I’m not afraid to say so.
My students and the work we do in the classroom together are, ultimately at my center. To sell them or myself out would be to dishonor all the people in my life who worked hard to give me the opportunities that got me here. It would dishonor the students and families that trust me every day.
At the end of the day, all I can ask is that I did my best to be true to myself. If the answer is yes, I know I can look myself in the mirror the next day and try and teach my kids the same thing.