The words, “Ally” and “Alloy” both come from the Latin word, “Alligare”, meaning “Bind together.”
Imagine asking Bronze, our oldest alloy, what makes tin a good ally to copper. Bronze would tell you that tin added to copper reduces the melting point and increases hardness, making for a stronger material that is easier to cast and turn into tools and weapons than copper on its own.
Centuries after the Bronze Age we still use the language of chemical reactions to describe human relationships. It is a testament to how words bind thoughts together through generations.
What, for you, is the ideal formula for an ally? Does an ally climb a castle tower and save you from dragons? Does an ally adhere to the Golden Rule, treating you to the letter how they wish to be treated, irrespective of your wishes? Does an ally stake a claim to being an ally, pointing to their flag in the ground when their ally-hood is questioned?
While these allies read like the lone, defiant hero we put on billboards, they have the same problem tin has: Tin can’t become bronze without no longer being tin.
If you really want to be my ally you’ll need to know that I can’t hear, see, or smell on my left side, that I was severely bullied as a kid, and that I require a combination of gentleness with me and trust in my strength that few are able to find, and that in order to capture it you’ll need to not just sit down and listen to me, but to sit down and listen in a way that changes you. Whether that looks like remembering to walk to the right of me or becoming more aware of ableism in our culture, you will never just be tin again, but you will be part of something better.
And this is true of everyone in every area, from the workplace to the bedroom. If someone in any way tells you you’re not being a good ally to them, they are correct. Always. If they’re incorrect factually they’re still correct on some level and you should listen to why. The best change often comes with a little destruction, so if listening causes your self-concept to shake, that is a good thing.
To boil it down to a simple equation: Never call yourself an ally. Live your life so that others call you one.