The loyalty landscape is mysterious. Families expect it. Organisations demand it. Friends respect it. Countries foster it. As the saying goes, “When an organisation wants you to do right, it asks for your integrity; when it wants you to do wrong, it demands your loyalty.” Loyalty is often blind. It is essential, as well as fallible. It requires complaisance, as well as servility. It is virtuous, as well as vice. As Mark Twain said, “Loyalty to the country always. Loyalty to the government when it deserves it.”

Loyalty needs faithfulness and willingness to make sacrifices. Not all loyalties merit allegiance. There is a thin line between loyalty and disloyalty. This line is often broken at the slightest temptation. We hardly remember who has been good to us, but it is hard to forget who has been bad to us.

Whistle blowers are generally seen as disloyal. They are generally construed as if they are against the system they are serving. But this is not always the case. Whistle blowers can also care the organization they serve. It is true that whistle blowers are not afraid to raise alarm once they see things like corruption, fraud, waste, but they do this for the good of the organization. The sad thing is that whistle blowing loyalists are fast becoming endangered species. This species needs to be preserved for the evolution of a better system.

Too much loyalty, on the other hand, could be dangerous. Loyalty breeds bias. Loyalty dies but biases don’t die. Biases lead us to wrong decisions. Even understated biases can produce real storms in our lives. Our biases and prejudices are subjective. We rely more on a certain piece of information, as we think other alternatives might not work that effectively. Because of the distorted perceptions and wishful thinking, we see things more positively than they really are. We often distort our memory to suit our perception. We accept the arguments of those whom we like. We reject the arguments of those we dislike. We attribute our successes to our abilities and talents. We like to believe that our failures are due to bad luck, external factors and destiny. We use one yardstick to judge our successes and failures, and another yardstick to judge others successes and failures. We underestimate the influence of self-interest on our own judgments and decisions, but overestimate its influence on the others. We underestimate future uncertainties. We crosscheck the bad news, but we eagerly accept good news.

We suffer from bias blindness. We have biased blind spots. We take biased decisions, based upon the irrational decisions we have taken in the past. We accept things, not necessarily based on merit, but merely because of our familiarity with the thing. We take hasty decisions to escape the feeling of doubt and uncertainty. We overestimate the degree to which others should agree with us. We underestimate the ability of others. We overestimate our own ability.

Bias is inevitable in the decision-making process. Some people like familiarity and certainty. Some people like uncertainty and novelty. People in the first group are less receptive to new ideas, and are biased towards predictability and clarity. People belonging to the second group love to face new situations, and are biased towards such people/issues.

Our brains are negatively attuned to biases. Almost all our decision-making biases favour conflict rather than concession. Hawks see only hostility in their adversaries. Doves often point to subtle openings for dialogue. A bias in favour of hawkish beliefs and preferences is built into the fabric of the human mind, says Daniel Kahneman.

We suffer from false optimism. Some of us believe that overconfidence projects higher social status. Some people believe that those who overrate themselves, often get more respect and admiration. But faulty self-assessment can lead to unrealistic expectations and hazardous decisions.

Overconfident people are generally rude, but not necessarily rude. Rudeness is also not a measure of overconfidence. Rudeness is often taken as a sign of power; “the ruder someone acts, the more convinced observers become that he or she is powerful, and therefore, does not have to respect the same rules the rest of us bow to.” The rule breakers are thought to be more powerful, compared to the people who follow rules. To attain status in society, one does many things, and one of the things is the display of overconfidence. One of the reasons of overconfidence is the belief that overconfidence leads to a behavioural signature that makes the individual appear more competent to others. Status promotes overconfidence. On achieving social status people tend to overestimate their abilities. False optimism often improves our chances of winning. Perhaps, that’s why overconfidence has remained a key human trait despite its harmful traits. One study shows that overconfidence pays off only when there is uncertainty about opponent’s real strengths, and when the benefits of the prize at stake is sufficiently larger than the costs. But if the cost of conflict or competition is high, and all for a fairly worthless prize you’re much better off being cautious.

Overconfidence is good but to a limited extent. Overconfident people sometimes are very difficult to deal with. Overconfidence can likely lead to narcissism. A narcissist always tries to hide his/her deep feelings of inferiority. Narcissists do not really believe they are as great as they claim to be. The same reasoning holds for the overconfident. Both are more a gas than a solid.

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