Tag Archives: forgiveness

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.

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.