You can sense a betrayal right away. You might pick up a change in disposition or notice some apprehension in the other person. You can detect a change in demeanor of a third person’s behavior from warm to cooler and more distant. You know that the cat’s been let out of the bag.
You had confided or admitted something to an acquaintance in confidence. Now you feel anger, a breach in the relationship and disgust at the lack of integrity about the other person.
Perhaps, you can recall some incident when you were the betrayer. We humans learn integrity by acting less than ethically. Hopefully, we learn this early in life and keep the lesson near and dear. However, the lesson hasn’t really yet stuck in many people’s minds. Tom Chochrane said, “Tragedy in life normally comes with betrayal and compromise, and trading on your integrity and not having dignity in life. That’s really where failure comes.”
The realization of a betrayal can change the brightest, sunniest, cheerful day into a gloomy, creepy time. I recently felt the dull thud of betrayal. I won’t counter the betrayal by mentioning the betrayer’s identity. That makes no difference anyway. It is only important in that I feel the need to write about my feelings of being betrayed.
Betrayal is one of humankind’s most negative faults. The heartbreak and tragedy is mentioned frequently in great works of literature. There are times when this simple, tempting vice is brought forth in religious and philosophical stories.
My Christian colleagues are most familiar with the betrayal of Jesus by Judas. The betrayer is portrayed as the villain in the telling of the last supper.
Philosophically, Shakyamuni Buddha suggested that practicing skillful speech is one of the requisites of a happy life. Skillful speech leads to awakening of the individual. In every case, if it is not true, beneficial nor timely, one is not to say it. The Pali Canon says, “…What is right speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, and from idle chatter: This is called right speech.” If you make it a habit to refrain from idle chit chat, you will find less need to come up with juicy tidbits about other people to pass along.
Betrayal is more than words, betrayal often manifests as a harmful action. Early in U.S. history we have the infamous case of Benedict Arnold betraying his fellow colonists during the revolutionary war against Great Britain.
There are other times when we know, deep in our heart of hearts that something has deeply wronged the nation. Vincent Buliosi spoke on this. “And I think within the pages of The Betrayal of America I think I present an overwhelming case that these five justices were up to no good, and they deliberately set out to hand the election to George Bush.” I think even many ethical conservatives felt this betrayal but failed to honor it. We have likely felt the personal abuse when a friend actively used an unfair advantage against us or if we felt that he had done so.
Perhaps the greatest cost of betrayal is the loss of trust. When you discover somebody has betrayed you, it is doubtful that you will ever feel the same level of trustworthiness of that individual again. If so, it will be hard won by the other person. Trust is a very etherial, fragile quality that can disappear in an instant. On the other hand, a long standing trust can be slowly eroded until one day you discover your trust in that person no longer exists.
Like all wrongdoing, betrayal hurts the betrayed and the betrayer. I posit that betrayal hurts the betrayer far worse. She is the one who has lost the valuable quality of trustworthiness. In trying to gain advantage through betrayal, the opposite is ultimately the result.
Much betrayal is made out of fear of loss or from an outright adversarial attitude. We get a boatload of this in our overt political culture. Louis Farrakhan observed, “Naturally, when one makes progressive steps, there may be some who see it as a betrayal of their goals and interests.” We’ll see this sort of betrayal prominantly displayed during this year’s political season.
So what do we do about betrayal? You can take the cynical view and not trust anybody, but that will leave you unhappy, too. You can be cautious in divulging information to people. If someone breaks your trust, you’ve learned a hard lesson. You can then forgive and move forward. Perhaps the friend will regain your trust but likely this will not be so. You can still be friendly as acquaintances.
If you’re the betrayer, you can own up to your wrongdoing and sincerely offer to make good your misdeeds. This will not guarantee that you will ever be in good favor with that friend again. It will give you one of life’s most valuable lessons. Hopefully you will always heed the character building you learn from your own betrayals.
The Blue Jay of Happiness says there is much to recommend about the lifestyle of fully ethical behavior.