12. Loyalty: To be good-hearted and dependable in all our relationships

What would you do?

Once a month for over 15 years, a college art teacher called Michael Swaine has set up his sewing machine on the streets of the Tenderloin district in San Francisco to mend clothes for the struggling residents. He does this entirely for free, as a gesture of gratitude for the antique sewing machine that he found discarded by the edge of the road, and as an expression of loyalty to this impoverished community. The sewing machine has become more than a tool for mending - it is a tool for connection, stories, and building community. Where most people see drugs, crime and homelessness on the streets of the Tenderloin, Swaine sees beauty and magic. Source: KarmaTube; www.servicespace.org

The benefits of loyalty

Loyalty has the potential to:

  • Help people everywhere grow and flourish in an environment of trust, safety and stability 
  • Encourage the practice of cherishing and supporting each other no matter what happens
  • Strengthen our ability to stand up and be present for the people and causes we believe in

A 16 Guidelines view on loyalty

When life is going well, it’s easy to forget that change happens in an instant. It is the nature of the universe. In an uncertain world, a sense of loyalty and mutual responsibility is often the glue that holds families and friendships together. It can be the lifeline that helps us to feel safe and supported and enables us to function well.

We all want to be accepted for who we are. Not for what we can buy, what we look like or who we know. When we cannot rely on the loyalty of each other, there is anxiety and insecurity, loneliness and heartbreak.

It is logical to feel loyalty towards the people we feel close to, especially if we want them to be loyal to us. But can this feeling of closeness go further? Is it possible to extend the same warmth and support to people outside our inner circle? What can be done to develop an attitude of loyalty and solidarity towards the wider community and, ultimately, towards the entire planet? Some great people, such as the 16 Guidelines role models, seem able to do this. What would the world be like if we could each extend our sense of loyalty in this way?

16 Guidelines resources and training for developing loyalty

Did you know?

Teenagers who put their group of friend’s interest before their self-interest have better health as adults. In a study of 171 individuals assessed repeatedly from the ages of 13 to 27 years, those participants who had close friendships in early adolescence were more physically healthy.


Allen, J. et al. Running With the Pack. Teen Peer-Relationship Qualities as Predictors of Adult Physical Health, Psychological Science, vol. 26 no. 10 1574-1583, 2015.



To live the full life, one must have the courage to bear responsibility for the needs of others” says Aung San Suu Kyi, who inherited her profound sense of loyalty and duty towards the Burmese people from her father, who had helped achieve independence for Burma – or Myanmar – in the early twentieth century. 

When Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 she was one of the world’s most prominent political prisoners, having endured almost 15 years of house arrest in Rangoon for opposing the military regime. Her strength and ability to sustain such hardship came from a conviction that taking responsibility for the happiness and well-being of others is the only true cause of finding happiness and satisfaction for oneself. “We must all understand that there is great merit in sacrificing for others and that by so doing we live the full life” she says. 

For more on Aung San Suu Kyi, see:

  1. Freedom from Fear and Other Writings and Letters from Burma by Aung San Suu Kyi
  2. The Lady and the Peacock: The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi by Peter Popham(2012)
  3. The Lady directed by Luc Besson, DVD (Region 2) 2012


A short reflection on loyalty from '16 Guidelines: The Basics' book

Find a quiet space where you can relax. Sit comfortably. To help you settle, focus your awareness on your breathing. Let go of any thoughts, images or feelings that arise. Whenever you become distracted, bring your awareness gently back to the sensation of the breath going in and out. Spend a few minutes enjoying the experience of coming to rest. 

If you have a garden, imagine yourself looking at it now. If you don’t have one, then imagine that you do. Your garden contains flower and plants, perhaps even vegetables and fruit trees. Some parts of your garden are spectacular – these are the areas you have given time and attention to. What do they look like? Some parts of your garden are straggly and neglected. What do they look like?  

Consider the idea: Whatever we pay attention to will grow; whatever we neglect will decline. Is this true for your garden? 

Your garden is a metaphor for your relationships. Reflect on those you have neglected by not meeting up for a chat, phoning, emailing or simply not paying attention. Why have you been neglecting them? Without resorting to guilt or blame, calmly ask yourself, “Have I been a loyal friend to these people?” 

In comparison, reflect on the relationships that receive your time and attention. These are the flourishing and well-tended areas of your garden. What causes you to be affectionate and loyal to some people and not to others? How do you demonstrate your loyalty? 

Ask yourself, “What does loyalty mean for me?” 

What would it take to pay equal attention to the whole of your garden? How would it look if every corner was alive with colour and foliage? How would you feel if every tree, plant and blade of grass was green and flourishing? How much effort would this require? Are you willing to dedicate the necessary time and energy? Watch your emotions around this question and calmly acknowledge them – there may be guilt, shame, a sense of heaviness. 

What attention are you willing to give your garden at this moment?   

Close with the wish “May all beings be happy!”


Quotes on loyalty

  • A promise is a cloud; fulfillment is rain. - Arabian Proverb
  • The good neighbour looks beyond the external accidents and discerns those inner qualities that make all men human and, therefore, brothers. – Martin Luther King Jr
  • Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down. - Oprah Winfrey
  • If having a soul means being able to feel love, loyalty and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans – James Herriot
  • I’ll take fifty per cent efficiency to get one hundred per cent loyalty – Samuel Goldwyn


Go to:

Next guideline: aspiration or Browse all guidelines