08 March 2013

Betrayal... It's In Us

It’s In Us

The friend who muscles in on your boyfriend while you’re away. The family member spreading the secret he or she swore to take to the grave. Politicians caught with pants down or hands in the collective cookie jar. Back-stabbers, false smilers, sucker punchers.

We’ve all experienced it, or seen it. Read about it in the history books. Bought that rag magazine because of the headline, “The Nanny Stole my Husband!” Kept the channel on Dr. Phil’s show.


Just the word gives us a shiver. It’s one of those impulses we’ve all had, occasionally perhaps succumbed to and can’t stop ourselves from watching unfold when it happens in our vicinity. Like the pictures of a train wreck or car crash. You want to be strong enough NOT to look, to show the strength of disapproval or the purity of your soul by looking away, but can’t. It’s such an integral part of the human condition it’s inescapable. Whether in the end you feel it was a good thing or a bad, can understand why the betrayer did what they did or not, it still leaves a fearful, distasteful sensation in the back of your throat. If Marcus Brutus, welcomed into Julius Caesar’s inner circle, given positions of power, regarded as a friend, could raise a hand to stab Caesar, what are those around us capable of? We shudder to think.

So we guard against and watch for it, always aware of the pain and destruction betrayal can cause. We restrain ourselves from giving in to the impulse to betray those around us—keeping the secrets no matter how juicy, biting our tongue when we could get others in trouble, turning away when tempted. Yet, on a deep, dangerous level, we often want to give in, to betray someone’s trust for our own gain or pleasure, or maybe even just for the fun of it…

We’re human. No matter how civilized we believe ourselves to be, it’s in us. We can’t help that, although we can keep it in check when necessary. So we do the next best thing to actually giving in—we read and write about it. Harmlessly get our fix of drama and danger through the pages of a book, even as we keep our eyes peeled for the real thing in our own lives. Putting the dagger in someone else’s hand, watching it rise and fall, yet knowing no real people were harmed in the bloodshed fulfills a basic human need—an atavistic desire to get what we want, to appear important, to do whatever we will with no one to tell us, “No.”

And, because most often we write or want to read about the betrayer getting his or her comeuppance, we fulfill another need by making them fail, get caught, pay for their betrayal in some way. We get our happy ending without having to succumb to another of those ugly, primal needs we all feel—the one that makes us want revenge.
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