Independently Generated vs. Externally Defined — Trust vs. Loyalty

Huangshan stairs

Endless stairs, Anhui Province/Huangshan, Anhui Province, China

One of the things that starts happening once you set up the relational dichotomy of independently generated, trust-based, data-driven relationships vs. externally defined relationships is that certain behaviors, thoughts and actions also clearly start falling in the various bins associated with these two fundamental empathetic/relational types.

One of the biggest is the difference between trust and loyalty.  Trust is inherently associated with something inside yourself, and ties itself back to data you’ve collected on the other person.  One can march down through the various idioms — trust is earned; trust is fragile; trust, once broken, is hard to regain.

Loyalty, though, is completely different.  No surprise that members of the military or government take loyalty oaths.  They are asked for explicit declarations of faith in institutions, or the people who are placed in authority by those institutions.  There’s many an infantryman who might have felt loyalty to their country, but did not trust their commanding officer.

It’s also interesting how it’s quite easy to pull up temporally dependent definitions of trust — as trust is fundamentally based on a data collection exercise.  It’s what we in the sciences call a time series — a fluctuating variable charted out over time.  Contrast that to loyalty — it’s what scientists and mathematicians call a binary scalar value.  Either you’re loyal to your country or not.  A loyal friend or not.  Loyal fan or not.  You can’t be sorta loyal, just like you can’t be sorta pregnant.

Words like this give insight and clues into how the brain processes different empathetic modes, and how different relational types either develop, or don’t develop timescales in the brain.  In the land of externally defined relationships, time seems not to have as much meaning to the individual.  Relationships, defined by the outside, elude control of a person.  Friendships, though, depend on time — calibrated by that time series of data known as trust.  And that creates interesting synchronization potentials in the brains of people that engage in that kind of relational development, that don’t exist at all in individuals immersed in organizations immersed in external definition.

One of my old girlfriends was Chinese.  She had lived an amazing, but tumultuous life, passing through the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, and the Tian’namen Square Incident (she was there) before emigrating to the United States.  “I am a very loyal woman,” she would tell me.  But I never felt she trusted me at all!

Takeaways:  There are many traits that naturally fall out under the Independent/External relationship dichotomy.  Trust and loyalty are just an example.  Trust depends on data and some rational process, loyalty depends on belief and emotion.  All corollaries can tell us important things about how the brain processes time — and that has enormous consequences for how we synchronize actions with others.

Further Reading:  Nothing better than the life of Musashi — a samurai turned Zen monk, who swings back and forth between both relational types.

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