Recently, I had a colleague tell me a story which hit me square between the eyes. It shed light on a glaring realization and lesson which I feel compelled to offer, and from which we can all learn. Here is the story:
His friend, with whom he was in business, betrayed him through omission to another co-worker. Often we think betrayal only shows up by commission – when an individual actively and overtly does or says something unkind, untrue, or just flat-out mean-spirited against another. However, betrayal may also show up through omission, which can often be even more damaging. This arises when a person spreads falsehoods and misrepresents the truth of a situation or a person; and rather than the friend standing tall and defending the truth and the person, as he/she knows it – he/she takes a ‘Switzerland’ approach and pleads neutrality. This approach is often chosen due to weakness in taking a stand, or fear of risking friendship on either or both sides of the equation. In this particular situation, this felt like (and was) a betrayal; as the friend knew the truth and opted to ‘plead the fifth’ rather than to speak the truth, defend him and the situation, and simply be loyal.
We have probably all been in situations like this – where we have been betrayed by omission as well as by commission. And, yes, they are both equally devastating and damaging. A few thoughts on this reality:
- When we become friends and/or business colleagues with people we like and admire, we expect certain basic qualities. Friends and relationships are the fundamental element on which our lives and our life’s journey are based. It is all about meeting people who can help us grow, learn, and become the best human beings we can become. These qualities may vary from person to person but most of them are really basic and are generally quite common. Loyalty, Trust, and honest communication are three such qualities; and are fundamental to building and sustaining strong relationships in business or in our personal lives.
- Let’s be clear on my definition of a loyal friend. It is not blind loyalty. A loyal friend will not support you if you are wrong; however, they will have direct conversations with you to help you re-frame situations to help you grow and consider all angles of an issue. A loyal friend will not remain silent to you; and discuss the issue with others breeding more discord and discontent amongst a team or group of individuals. A loyal friend may not agree with you all the time and they may not have the same opinions as yours; yet they will still stand by your side. They will be blatantly honest and want you to know the truth in the spirit of helping you grow as a human being. They will not play both ends against the middle; they take a stand and are courageous in their stance. True and loyal friends will always stand by your side and they will ultimately provide you what you need in any of these circumstances. Your friends will give you their honest opinion and help to hold you accountable to your best self.They do not ‘parrot’ what they think you want them to say. They are not spineless. They do not plead “Switzerland” to keep all sides happy with them. They take a stand, based on their truth, the loyalty to their friend AND if there is constructive advice, they offer it with compassion, respect, and loyalty. They will defend you to others who may not understand you, understand or appreciate your intentions, or simply not want the best for you.
- Let’s face it, there are times in life and business where we may find ourselves in a tight spot. Sometimes being loyal to one friend may mean being perceived as disloyal to another. The truism is this: there is ONE truth. Sure, there are always two sides to every story; yet, at the end of the day, there are not ‘versions’ of the truth. The spirit of one’s intentions, in every situation, is the litmus test. If a person has nothing but love, support, and purity of intention to help others – this is the moral compass giving us direction. In the end, as loyal friends, we need to do what we feel strongly in our hearts; AND though it may pain us to hear it (or tell it), we must tell the truth, the whole, complete truth to our friends. Because loyalty is about trust, and if the other person learns we were not (are not) being completely honest – then that trust is shattered. At that point, the friendship is compromised.
Finally, in wanting to offer wisdom around this issue, I sought Biblical verses to serve as the bedrock. There were a few verses which I felt were salient to this article, and I offer these in closing:
Proverbs 27:17 – As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.
Proverbs 17:17 – A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 – Two people are better than one because together they have a good reward for their hard work. If one falls, the other can help his friend get up.
Proverbs 27:6 – You can trust what your friend says, even when it hurts. But your enemies want to hurt you, even when they act nice.
Thessalonians 5:11 – Therefore encourage one another and build each other up as you are already doing.
My hope is that we will embrace the sacred responsibility of being loyal to our friends. This means having the difficult conversation if there is an area of concern. This means giving direct feedback to a friend, if there is an area for growth and increased self-awareness. This means taking a stand to defend what we know is right; even if that means standing in opposition of others. And finally, and most importantly, it means having integrity in a relationship which is standing behind your convictions regardless of the consequences; and doing so openly and honestly – and not pleading ‘Switzerland’.