Loyalty, community, ethics

I worked out as a teen that friendship was going to be key to my ethics and that I would start from an assumption of loyalty to my friends. It’s still the place I start from when dealing with conflict or difficulty and it’s become a more pertinent issue with social media.

If someone is upsetting a true friend of mine, I will ditch them in a heartbeat. 

Of course there are all kinds of issues around this. I think the majority of people probably act from this basis but not necessarily having considered it. We defend our friends, but at what point is a line crossed? When do we admit that we may have misjudged them? How much do we need to hear to admit that the friend we’ve been loyal to is a bully, an abuser, a rapist?

It doesn’t reflect well on us if our friends turn out to be terrible people. It means either we might be terrible too, or we might be foolish, easily hoodwinked, or poor judges of character. There’s a loss of self inherent in admitting that someone you were invested in is actually a bit shit. From experience, it’s easier to do this when you aren’t the only one. A community ejecting a person can be a lot stronger and more confident than a lone individual doing it.

But then we have to ask questions about scapegoating. We have to check very carefully that the person being pushed out is the person who should leave. Bullies can be really good at playing the victim, and this kind of conflict can turn out to be a popularity contest. The confident attractive, powerful, socially able person is likely to win if they go up against a nervous, fragile, awkward person. Bullies can be charming for the benefit of their supporters, and they know how to pick a good victim.

Staying out of a conflict is always supportive of the abuser, if there is one. Assuming it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other always supports the bully, if there is one. Assuming that our friends are good people can make us wilfully oblivious to the harm they do. If we don’t police our communities, we give opportunities to bullies, abusers and predators. If we do police our communities, we run the risk of supporting the charismatic psychopaths at the expense of victims who have been chosen because they weren’t socially attractive in the first place.

There are no simple answers here. Blind faith in each other is dangerous. Being too quick to believe the worst of someone destroys relationships. There will always be haters. Who are you going to trust? Whose behaviour is going to be part of your reputation? Where do you draw lines? At what point do you decide that a friend is in fact a problem?

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

8 responses to “Loyalty, community, ethics

  • karenenneagram

    All true, Nimue, and there’s an added twist: the tendency of communities to scapegoat the whistleblower….. the one who names the abuse and its source is often the one the others turn on. After all, we prefer the status quo, the un-rocked boat (and as you point out, the abuser is often charismatic), and we were fine until you opened your mouth. Got that t-shirt. Often happens in communities purporting to be spiritual.

    It’s a hard call, isn’t it? Especially when a once-loved friend is hurting another, or a beloved group. How do we deepen our discernment of truth?

  • M.A.

    I tend to second-guess my instincts, and talk myself out of believing what’s going on. I’ll make excuses for other people that I’d never use for myself. I suppose that means that we have to trust ourselves fully before we can decide who else is trustworthy. Easier to say than do…

  • Tim Waddingtom

    Such situations are seldom clear cut. There is a saying in German that “We are neither white like the angels nor black like the devil, but grey like an ass” Or, as a Jewish proverb has it. “There are always three sides to any story, his, hers and the truth”. This is not to say that we shouldn’t get involved or an excuse for sitting on the fence. Nobody is a completely terrible person, always a liar, always right or always wrong, including ourselves, and when considering our judgements and actions, it is essential to be aware that what we think or do may be entirely inappropriate and be prepared to revise our standpoint and, where necessary make reparations. This takes courage.

  • potiapitchford

    I have learnt that my idea of what is a true friend is rarely shared in the wider world. That’s caused me pain in the past but I’ve come to accept that’s just the way it is and now hold more back than I used to.

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