marriage icon
Jumping ship
It's my group!
My country, right or wrong
"We" won!
Can a paycheck buy loyalty?
© David Tenenbaum


The Parthenon in Greece

Image courtesy Kevin T. Glowacki and Nancy L. Klein of the Department of Classical Studies at Indiana University at Bloomington.


Loyalty = unswerving allegiance to person, group or principle
To be loyal, we need something to be loyal to. And that something is usually a group, whether that's a team, a university, a religion or a cult. And if loyalty requires a group, the opposite is also true, says Stephen Worchel, professor of psychology at Southern Maine University. "You can have categories without loyalty, but groups can't exist without loyalty."

mother and son We scrounged through the psychology and popular literature but found durn little in the way of studies of loyalty. Although that seemed odd, given all the lives lost and dollars wasted to misplaced loyalty, we figured the subject was important anyway so we phoned people who might have interesting insights into the subject of loyalty.

Even in the individualistically-minded United States, Worchel adds, "Groups are critically important," which accounts for the intense loyalty they can spark. Groups, he says,

  • tell us who we are. "Our identity comes from the group."

  • tell others who we are. "We're often evaluated according to the group we belong to. If I go to a positive [well-regarded] school, and our team is a winning team, I'm evaluated more highly in your eyes."

  • help us overcome adversity. "Groups are important for protection and social support. If you need something, you may have to rely on the group. If you are attacked or threatened, you have to rely on the group."

The Acropolis
Obviously, some groups attract stronger loyalty than others. The question of increasing loyalty becomes critical to army recruiters, sports promoters and corporate brand managers. Groups can intensify loyalty by being selective (think Harvard Business School) and erecting high barriers to entry (think U.S. Marines).

Disloyalty = ?
Dependent as they are on loyalty, groups must not just foster loyalty but also discourage disloyalty. In the military, of course, disloyalty can be a matter of life or death -- to the unit and the traitorous individual once caught. Other groups have less drastic, but still effective, methods for punishing disloyalty: lawyers can be disbarred for flouting the rules of their trade, employees can be fired for giving away secrets, and police officers can be shunned by peers for disloyally ratting on fellow officers. In terms of punishment, says Worchel, the more public, the better. (Don't even ask what happens to a Green Bay resident who snubs the Pack...)

One classic type of disloyalty has nothing to do with politics, but rather marriage. "When you engage in another relationship after being married for 20 years, 20 years of trust is gone, because always in the back of the mind is the thought that this is someone who can be enticed away from the group," says Worchel.

Are the Chechen rebels now battling Russian troops being disloyal?

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