There are many faces of betrayal, from friends to burglary, and everything in-between.
From the moment we are born, we are encouraged to trust. In a quite possibly hostile world, our mothers – for most of us, though tragically not all – are the first human beings in whom we can not only trust, but also rely on for sustenance, protection, love, and ultimately: survival.
For a short time physically and for what feels like an eternity mentally, we try to establish who is our friend – the smiley face with fluffy hair or the scaly one with big teeth? – And, who might do us harm – the scaly one with big teeth or the smiley one with fluffy hair? Wait a minute, she’s got big teeth too – oh dear me!
Of course, in times long ago, every man was for himself, until our intelligence developed, and we reasoned that communal living was far more productive and preferable in so very many ways. In your own cave, you couldn’t row about who takes out the garbage. You did it yourself. Same with erotic possibilities. Oops sorry, perhaps we don’t need to go there…
Then if we are not to live like hermits, it is pretty important that we get the trust thing spot on and soonest. So, the big question is, why do so many of us get it wrong?
On what criteria do we base our judgments? This week, I have had conversations with far too many people who been betrayed in one way or another. From mental cruelty hidden deep inside a marriage and kept secret from the outside world, to a very public affair resulting in a costly and stressful divorce, all the way to a burglary and the loss of precious, irreplaceable memories in the shape of vintage camera equipment and jewelry belonging to long-gone parents.
I’ve had a taste of it myself, and although it was pretty minor in terms of damage; it was nonetheless an unexpected and ill-considered attempt to swipe the bread from my table by a friend who has only ever received support and encouragement from me.
We can be betrayed by those we know, and those whose faces we never even see.
We trust the handrail. We lean against the doors on a moving train. (on the inside of course. But of course, you’ve worked that out.) We have a five-minute conversation with utter strangers at airports and then leave our bags with them while we grab a coffee or pop to the bathroom where we also trust we will not catch any of the billions of infections that have flown in with every plane-load of our trusting fellow travellers.
We trust the food we buy, unless we have purchased it from that giant super hyper mega market where Every Little Helps.
It is after all a long time since dinner-plates were made with a flat border to accommodate all the spat out caterpillars, crunchy bugs, lumps of grit and, bits of our teeth. My son asked me why it is traditional to keep the food within the inner circle and I had to think for a moment…
We trust the pleasantly spoken Steve or Dave phoning from the Far East to ease our phone bills, reduce our utilities and, ask us a few questions about ourselves. At least for the first sixteen times they call; and then when we are really truly too busy for the joy of the conversation, we say so and are astonished when they forget their nice manners and hang up. An extremely polite friend of mine was actually told, when he asked pleasantly if they would remove his number from their data base, to F*ck Off. He felt betrayed. Wouldn’t you?
We trust the hairdresser when he says his assistant is every bit as good as he, would we mind because he’s double booked? And we trust the multi-pierced youth with the lopsided crop not to take off too much, and doze into our pleasant dream of the luncheon date to come. On waking, we see not one, but two lopsided crops staring from the mirror. We feel: betrayed.
But these are trivial betrayals compared with the appalling shenanigans perpetrated by elected politicians who are our dearest friends until we actually elect them and then betray our trust in an astonishing big-toothed and scaly display of naked self-interest. Little Red Riding-Hood had nothing on the electorates of democratic nations since (JXC quote) the nineteen eighties when greed was sanctified as a virtue. Why is naked self-interest, or even self interest with its pants on so distressing to us? The answer is, it’s not. Anyone who’s raised a two-year old is well familiar, and takes it in their stride. It is the Pretence that changes the perspective. When we are betrayed, we lose something; our money, our job, our spouse, or our self-respect. We feel fools, because we have been: fooled. And it’s this that hurts as much as the actual material loss.
It is necessary, in order to continue to function as we must without squandering our energy on self-reproach, to address this pretty rapidly. The fact is that we are ALL fools, hurtling around on a ball of dirt at millions of miles an hour with only our belief be it in Iceland or Australia, that the floor is down there, the ceiling and the sky is up there, and that a solid rock is a solid rock and that the government in Rekjavik, Canberra or Brussels has our interests at heart as much as its own, to keep us sane. It is, so very nice to have something in which to trust, n’est-cepas?
A final word on betrayal; in this world of sophisticates, it is still possible to be betrayed by a simple human and wonderfully natural blush. That sudden rush of blood to the cheeks may mean that we’ve just been caught fiddling our expenses, or it may expose the deepest secret of all, that we’re in love…