Beyond betrayal

I read a lot of novels growing up but I was not one for memorizing texts and speeches. One of my teachers in school got me interested in a particular speech in “The Tragedy of Julius Caesar” by William Shakespeare. The speech was one made by Mark Anthony at the funeral of Julius Caesar who was murdered by his close allies. Even now I still remember it and the stirrings it occasioned in my heart when I heard it for the first time: “Friends Romans and country men lend me your ears. I have come to bury Caesar and not to praise him, the evil that men do lives after them and the good are oft interred with their bones….” the speech was a master work of oration by Mark Anthony, and it was crafted as such for a purpose.  The speech was punctuated often by the phrase “…and Brutus was an honorable man”. A little insight into the story of Julius Caesar will help unveil the man Brutus.

The tragedy of Julius Caesar is a story of politics and betrayal. Some of the Roman elite feared that Caesar was becoming too powerful and conspired to kill him and in their own reasoning save Rome the trouble of having a king reign over them (the Romans detested the idea of having a king over them). For their plan to be appealing to the populace the conspirators needed a man of honor to stand with them and for them and Marcus Brutus was that man.

The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not mov’d with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils.

William Shakespeare (The Merchant of Venice)

Having aligned himself with the conspirators, Brutus was present in the Senate forum when the attack on Caesar began, they stabbed him multiple times, and in the agony of death Caesar looked around and saw Brutus, a man whom he knew to be honest and forthright not shady in his dealings but principled in his actions, among the conspirators and made that everlasting cry of despair in the face of absolute betrayal, “Et tu, Brute?” (Thou too Brutus?).

The impassioned speech by Mark Anthony during Caesars funeral eventually drove the crowd of roman mourners to go after the conspirators and drive them out of the city, by the end of the story, Marcus Junius Brutus had committed suicide.

To betray ; to deliver to the enemy through treacherous means, to fail or desert especially in a time of need, to sell down the river.

At one time or the other we have all felt betrayed be it by parents, friends siblings or spouses. Most have also felt betrayed by circumstances or situations. But of all forms of betrayal we reckon less with our betrayal of ourselves. The betrayal of the values we hold dear, our principles our goals our views of life or circumstances, our political and religious views and other things that make up the fabric of who we are.

We never are but by ourselves betrayed.

William Congreve

For little favors we have betrayed our principles, in order to belong we have betrayed our religious convictions, we have become a people without philosophies or ethos. Its easier for us to quote philosophers and scholars of centuries gone by but we lay no claim to new ethos of living our lives.

In being betrayed you learn a few things, part of which is that every human being has the capacity to betray someone and that most betrayals if not all are done out of a survival instinct to preserve self. I am not trying to make excuses for anybody but it will be nice to understand some part of the wiring of a human being that allows him act the way he does.

Both imagined and real fear has a way of getting people to betray the things that they are supposed to cherish.

So how then do we get over and above betrayal, how do we survive being betrayed or betraying others. Following a betrayal the reflex action is to cut off the offending individual, remove from your consciousness anything that will remind you of the harm done to you. But beyond that, its important to allow yourself the opportunity to heal.

Depending on the magnitude of the betrayal healing might take a while, dont force it but be open to its soothing waves. Its normal to find no reason to forgive the offender, but their cant be genuine healing without forgiveness. After the anger has abated listen to your heart and seek peace, focus on the action that hurt you but not on the individual. Dont rationalize it, dont make excuses for why the individual could have betrayed you, just look beyond the action to see a flawed human being like you.

Reason to rule, but mercy to forgive:
The first is law, the last prerogative
.

John Dryden

If we relate with each other on the basis that we are a flawed species then forgiveness will come easy for us. It is tragic that of ourselves we have never been able to give perfection but we demand it of others and when they fail we condemn them.

The commonest story of betrayal in the world today is that of Judas one of the disciples of Jesus. He betrayed his friend and master for 30 pieces of silver. His crime did not stop in the betrayal but continued into his hopelessness that he could never be forgiven. The end point of that loss of hope was him committing suicide.

Even as there is a discernible pathway to a better life following a betrayal so it is when you betray yourself in your principles, visions, dreams or goals. You have to recognize the betrayal, you have to acknowledge it and accept responsibility for it.  And then you have to find it in yourself to forgive yourself and move on.

The stupid neither forgive nor forget;

the naive forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget.

Thomas Szasz

Life is not just about the big victories, it is the small victories that aggregate to become big victories.

A little step here and a little push there and on you go to becoming a better person.

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The face of fear

In Nigeria we call it “ojuju”, at least that’s in the Eastern and Western parts, in Europe and the Americas it is the bogeyman. Across cultures it is known by different names but has the same effect: fear. As children growing up we were indoctrinated into the fact that “ojuju” is resident in every dark corner of the house. Now we all know the implication of that when suddenly electricity fails at night. Every child looks for his or her mother to hold onto ( I wonder why it’s always the mother). In a way we raise our children on this culture of acceptable fear.

And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you,
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you
I will show you fear in a handful of dust
.

T.S. Eliot

Acceptable because the adults know it’s nonsense so they catch their fun for the day watching kids try to flee the clutches of “ojuju”. We grow up and understand the joke played on us and we set out to do the same to our kids.

Fear is a common denominator to all human beings, we have all been afraid and we are all still afraid. I try to arbitrarily classify fear as conscious and unconscious fear. Conscious fear will include the numerous phobias; from agoraphobia to xenophobia to claustrophobia. The list is endless, these fears are known to the individual and he/she tries avoidance as a panacea. When the individual is exposed to this type of fear the individual freezes, pulse racing with palpitations, excessive sweating, maybe tremors and other physically observable symptoms are present .these phobias are incapacitating to the physical person.

You may take the most gallant sailor,

the most intrepid airman, or the most audacious soldier,

put them at a table together—what do you get? The sum of their fears.

Winston Churchill

What I term unconscious fear on the other hand comes from our minds, the object of fear is abstract, it is intangible and the effects have a less physical manifestation if any. This is the fear that that limits our drive to succeed because we fear failure, or the drive to form relationships because we fear betrayal. It limits our desire to know God because we fear what we can’t comprehend.

I once refused to write an exam because I was afraid of failing, my classmates were preparing for this exam but I found a convenient way to sidestep it. Now looking back I could have written that exam even if I failed I would have learnt of a better way to write it the next time. But my fear kept me from moving.

That’s the type of fear we are talking about, the fear that stops your mind from taking necessary steps. After years of being made to feel like fear was a defect in my life, I have come to the understanding that fear is essentially necessary for growth and development. It is a necessary motivator for success if well understood and applied.

Today we celebrate people that contributed in no small way to our development as a species in this century. Men and women who through hard work and determination gained knowledge that is helping us know our world better. We like to paint them as fearless achievers but I like to remember them as men and women who knew and understood their fears and employed these fear in their journey of life.

Every man has a House of Lords in his own head.

Fears, prejudices, misconceptions—

those are the peers, and they are hereditary.

David Lloyd-George

The difference between success and failure lies in the ability of one to feel afraid and yet do the needful, to be mortified and yet not be paralyzed by fear. Courage is not overcoming your fears but having mastery over them.

We can’t talk of the courage to succeed or to achieve and make exploits if we don’t talk of the fear of being a mediocre. Courage to eat right to be healthy can only come from a healthy fear of becoming sick through unhealthy eating habits. Fear, healthy fear should drive us to succeed, it should drive us to not conform but to be positively different. The business man who is striving to be wealthy is probably afraid of seeing his children suffer the want that he suffered growing up, the medical researcher spending night and day looking for the cure of rare diseases may well be afraid of seeing the despair in the eyes of a patient he could not help. The wealthy individual that became a philanthropist may well be afraid of how he will be remembered when he lives the world stage, and that drives him to try and write a new epitaph for him/herself.

More than being the negative force it has been described as, fear is a positively motivational force for success. When we were in school we were always  told to strive to be better than our fathers in terms of education and achievements in life, so at some point in life the fear of being less lettered than your father drove boys to school. Even now that a lot of us are professionals the fear of not standing out among your peers drives a lot of people to pursue excellence so that they could be outstanding.

Okonkwo’s fear … was not external but lay deep within himself.

It was the fear of himself, lest he should be found to resemble his father.

Chinua Achebe (Things fall apart)

This is not to disregard the negative influences of fear but to focus by choice on the positives. Because at the end of the day the path we follow is a path of choice.

Two young girls came from the same village, both their mothers were widows and were petty traders striving to make ends meet. For both girls the fear of not wanting to be like others in their age group in the village drives them to look for a better opportunity in life. One apprenticed in a hair dressers saloon and years later has become the owner of a number of saloons. The other, driven by the same fear found herself with a group of girls that took her down the wrong way, she became a prostitute and started having unprotected sexual intercourse. She got infected with HIV/AIDS and died. Same fear different outcomes.

Today the call is to acknowledge your fear and strive to master it; it’s only the fool that thinks there is nothing to be afraid of. Your courage will be measured not in the mountain of fear you overcame to become successful but in your understanding of your fears and having them as a companion on your path to success. Someone once said that “the opposite of courage is not cowardice it is conformity”, choose not to conform today and take a dive into the deep end of the ocean of courage.

Finding the Beauty within

I was surfing the news this morning when I came to a startling realization: that there is war and conflict in every continent of the world. From minor political conflicts within nations to cross border conflicts among nations graduating to full blown wars both within local borders and international ones, as if that was not enough the news of West Africa battling with Ebola viral Disease is on , the disease has killed more than 10,000 human beings and still counting though it appears to be under control. The terror attacks by Islamic ideologues against innocent civilians are on the rise, young men and women travelling to Syria to apply for the position of “suicide bombers” so they can kill others for their belief are on the increase. Economic conflicts here and there, the European Union and Greece trying to out negotiate each other, citizens in Spain staging anti-austerity rallies. The list goes on and on and it made me wonder: is there still beauty in this world?

The focus on negative news in our world today has made us lose sight of the beauty that still is in the world. The Liberian nursing student who alone nursed 3 family members who had Ebola viral disease to health, the mother that gave birth naturally to a 14 pound baby in Florida, USA, the man in Dubai who was morbidly obese, diabetic and had heart problems who changed his lifestyle and increased his exercise and in 3 months has lost so much weight that his heart has started functioning normally and his blood sugar is on an all time low with minimal medication. We do not see the journalist in America who lost his arm to acute compartment syndrome tell his story of denial , despair and eventual recovery from the loss and his actively conscious effort to focus on the good and live one day at a time.

It was the Chinese philosopher Confucius that said that “everything has beauty but not everyone sees it”. We have to learn to see the beauty in our lives, our environments and then the world. Don’t for a second think you can blank out the negative news, you can instead choose not to focus on them.

This applies more to our personal lives, some mornings we wake up to the realization that a lot of things are not working in our lives as they ought to. I don’t have my preferred job, I am not promoted as I should, I have been married for a number of years and no child yet. My company is recording monthly losses and it looks like I may have to declare bankruptcy soon. It seems that at that moment that you woke up, your entire challenges and difficulties gate crashed into your consciousness and so you think, “My life is a mess, nothing is working”.

It is very instructive to know that nobody’s life is free of challenges or difficulties of one sort or the other. The one worried about job promotion should remember there are those who don’t have jobs, the one worried about not having a child yet should remember that there are some who want to be married and cannot. No matter at what level of life we are, we are always better than somebody. This does not imply we should be complacent in our life’s pursuits rather it should give us the latitude to judge well where we are and where we are coming from; laying a lot of emphasis on what is working for us now.

Your challenges don’t go away, there are solved eventually. The solution most times do not come from an obsession with them to the detriment of all others rather it is easier to find solutions to difficult problems in the silent reminiscing of the good that has befallen us. For him who is gifted sees inspiration in all things but the one who labors to attain the level of “gifted” seeks for inspiration in all things.

“Beauty in things exists in the mind which contemplates them”

                                                                                                                   David Hume

Can you find beauty in yourself and in the life around you? We have become such a noisy society that we don’t even have time again to think and reflect on the nuances of life, our life has by our own design become more outward looking than inward looking. So we see the successes of others and not the challenging journey that brought them there, we can give up anything for fame  which for a lot of young people gets peer group validation. We idolize celebrities but don’t learn from their lives, all because we don’t stop to think. In this age, we have access to so much information that it is immensely hard to determine what is important and what is not. The millenials as this generation is known by, focus so much on what is on the outside than on what is on the inside.

Well this is the time for us to stop and find the beauty on our insides so that we can teach the world that beauty beyond compare still exists in this world because we have found exceeding beauty in ourselves.

Life Masks

I once met a dear fellow who was selling medical equipments and on this faithful day he was promoting a medical device that could detect cervical cancer using light and reflective spectroscopy through a method called biophotonics.  It was interesting because the device primarily makes its diagnosis based on the interaction of this particular light form with the different layers of cells in the cervix. So cancer signs hidden in the deepest layers of the cervix beyond physical sight can be located and analyzed by this device.  And that led to my musing, what life will be like if such a device existed but only to reveal our true emotions?

We live in a world where we make a lot of effort to hide exactly what we feel, everybody does it and quite frankly it even has some positive value. But my concern is the loss of who we are that has arisen as a result of these masks that we wear from place to place. At the work place you are a different person, when you live work driving home you are different, at home or in the country club you are still different. It’s almost like we have created for ourselves an emotional persona of who to be at any place and at any time.

Like I said it helps in some ways but becomes a burden when these emotional personas start to overlap. When I cannot verbalize my anger in the work place because I don’t want to be seen as crude and intolerant, with overlapping of these emotional personas I will get home and not be able to converse or discuss something at home that is obviously making me mad.

“Get mad, and then get over it.”

                                                    Colin Powell

With this way of life we internalize a lot of things that have no part being on our insides, so I am angry and in order not to show it, I let it simmer within me, I am disappointed with a task instead of expressing that, I show a happy face and push the disappointment down to the basement as it were. I am disillusioned in my home but because I don’t want my wife to think that her effort at  helping me build a home is not paying off, I swallow the disillusionment and I smile broadly when I come home.

In her book “Her blue body, everything we know” the American author and poet Alice Walker said that, “tears left unshed turn to poison in the ducts”. True enough psychological events have long been recognized as trigger factors for some of our physical ailments. Women have long known that emotional instability affects their menstrual periods, doctors have long proved that physical and emotional stress are predisposing factors for hypertension, anger and intense emotional reactions has been known to cause relapse in peptic ulcer disease patients, men and women have been known to have congestive cardiac failure (heart attack) in response to sudden and intense emotions and the list is endless.

“A man who has not passed through the inferno of his

passions has never overcome them.”

                                                                                                                    Carl Gustav Jung

When this “poison in the ducts” do not manifest as physical ailments, they may manifest in the way we react to people and situations. Disproportionate punishments are meted out to children who commit an offence. The emotions thought to be forever buried sip out intermittently when we least expect it to. You take your wife to a restaurant smiling and joking and a waiter brings you mineral water instead of the bottled water you ordered and you absolutely blow a fuse. You find you cannot genuinely express some emotions anymore because you have lost the spontaneity of expression that makes emotions beautiful. Now you have to will them into being in the façade that have become your life.

You have lost sight of who you are and sometimes you are even afraid to find out because for you, the mask allows you to have a flawless performance on the stage of life so why “change a winning team”. On the outside we exert supreme and absolute emotional control but on the inside we let these emotions run wild with unimpeded freedom because in reality we can only do so much to have control over our internal and external milieu and so we end up having dark hearts and minds but happy faces.

“Outside, among your fellows, among strangers,

you must preserve appearances, a hundred things

you cannot do, but inside, the terrible freedom!”

                                                                                                         Ralph Waldo Emerson

So what’s the way out? In as much as it’s beautiful and wise to have some bit of emotional masking, there is a more important need  to have a way of letting out these bottled up and toxic emotions cause if we don’t,  we may drown in them. Some people do well with therapists others do well by themselves and yet others achieve “release” by talking with a very close friend. Whatever the means, the important thing is to acknowledge and understand the harm these “unshed tears” are causing and are capable of causing in your life. When you achieve that then the next and all important step is to find a way to liberate the emotions of yesterday clogging up your emotional ducts of today, so that you can liberate your glorious emotions from the shackles that have long held them down.

It is a harder journey for deeply introspective individuals because on their own most times they can find the cause of the malaise, if they put their minds to it. But to take the needed step to solve it becomes difficult. For them; it is difficult to understand that the solutions to some problems lie outside of the mind and that the finder of the problem does not necessarily become the solver of the problem, so they labor alone and despair when they don’t succeed.

At the other end is the extremely extroverted group of individuals who do not even acknowledge situations that will bring out “normal negative” emotional responses that every human being will expect, these are the extremely cheerful who live in absolute denial of the fact that they are “mono-emotional”. For them happiness whether real or imagined is the only emotion worth showing, every other emotion or situation that will warrant them is shoved aside and remains unacknowledged.

For them and others who may want  to embark on this  journey to remove the masks that have prevented them from being who they really are emotionally and sentimentally, I say have hope and never stop working towards living the life you were meant to live.

Improbable as it is, unlikely as it is;

we are being set up as a beacon of hope for the world.

                                                                                                        Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Storm clouds

I grew up in my fathers’ stone house in a quiet area of the town. On evenings when usually there is no electricity we sit on mats outside the house to listen to an array of moonlight tales delivered by my mum but authored by those that came long before her. The stories were so engaging that you couldn’t leave without knowing the end, sending us on errands during these periods saw the fastest response time in history because nobody wants to miss a part of the story. After the stories we lay down looking at the skies and count the stars, noting the fading ones and the bright ones.

It is in this phase of our evening enjoyments that we usually notice that sometimes, white clouds cover up the stars and then the winds get cooler than before, when this happens, the adults will tell us to pack up and go inside because rain was a likely possibility. So the rain clouds obscure the beauty of the night sky even if just for a moment, the beauty is replaced by threatening, heavy and dark clouds that change the atmosphere from joy to terror.

This is not so different from our lives; the rain clouds are the threatening uncontrollable situations and environments we find ourselves in. It could be triggered by the people we work, live or interact with regularly, who cause us to react in ways that for an instant hide the beauty of our lives from us and from others that are looking. Have you seen a close friend in the heat of anger, righteous though the anger may be, but at that moment he looses every appearance of the human being you know. He is snarling like a dog and threatening fire and brimstone, he is shouting at the object of the anger and looking for what to destroy, he is uncontrollable, and you wonder, where the beauty is. Somebody described anger or more correctly fits of rage as moments of temporary insanity, is he far from the truth?

I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

William Blake

Sometimes the situations that we are thrown into trigger off severe emotional reactions that obscure for an instant the beauty we possess. You are trying your best to be tolerant in the office and so you complain less and overlook more, but a colleague sees it as an opportunity to ride roughshod over you because he feels you lack the capacity to respond to him as is necessary. But one day he does the one thing that is equivalent to the “last straw”: when you approach him you don’t shout, you don’t scream, you just sit him down and for thirty minutes you just dress him down, you assault him with words and when you finally let him go, you know within you that his perception of you has changed forever. Nobody will ever think your tolerance is borne out of cowardice or foolishness again, they will see you from a different perspective from henceforth.

There are not fifty ways of fighting, there’s only one,

 and that’s to win. Neither revolution

nor war consists in doing what one pleases.

André Malraux

Sometimes it is fair and trite to cover up your beauty roll up your sleeves and get in the mud. There are some things due you that you can’t get unless you fight for them. Not just fight but low down dirty brawling. In the words of the country musician Don Williams,” sometimes you have to fight to be a man”. The difficulty here is in choosing how and where to shield your delicate beauty so you can achieve your due reward.

Few things in life are worth fighting for and fewer yet are worth dying for. You should fight for your dreams, you should fight for your loved ones, you should fight for the things that you are passionate about, you should fight for your wife/husband, you should fight for your children, and you should fight for your tomorrow. Preserving the “beauty” of your character should not be important when there is a need to fight for what you hold dear, for instance : to liberate your child from forces you know you are stronger than and even if you are weaker than them beauty should not keep you from trying. Maintaining your demeanor before your boss as he demeans your wife may help keep your job but has definitely killed your marriage, love is worth fighting for.

Pick battles big enough to matter, small enough to win.

Jonathan Kozol

We are men and women not robots, our feelings don’t work on switches. Our feelings don’t have “feelostarts” so that when they reach a particular level they are automatically shut off. Our being intelligent beings allow us to make intelligent choices about emotional decisions especially ones that will change our lives.

A woman has been known to have singlehandedly lifted a Volkswagen beetle that ran her child over and the kid was trapped beneath the car. Fighting is our heritage but we have lost the sense of what to fight for.

It’s easier to see husband and wife fight over divorce settlements than fight to save their marriage, as siblings we fight over inheritances instead of unity, we fight over politicians instead of fighting for good governance, and we fight over who to worship instead of over how to live right. Misplaced priorities are what plague our lives in these days, we are all fighting for something, and the question is, are you fighting for the right thing?

Families ain’t just born; you got to work at ’em,

even when there ain’t much to work with.

Marsha Hunt

The rain clouds may eventually go away without bringing rain and sometimes it only goes away after a torrential downpour. But after the rain comes the sunshine, after the dark clouds comes the clear skies after the weeping comes the smile.

May our rain clouds prepare us to fight for the right things, things that will outlive us not things that will expire before us.

LITREARY ADVENTURES OF AN AMATEUR PHILOSOPHER

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