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“Our visit to this planet is short, so we should use our time meaningfully, which we can do by helping others wherever possible. And if we cannot help others, at least we should try not to create pain and suffering for them.”
– Dalai Lama
Reading about morality and spirituality has helped me during the process of healing from this betrayal, as I am reminded that there is right and wrong in this world. It is not right to simply do what one wants, or what one feels like, in order to gratify oneself, or to get what one desires. The needs and feelings of others must be considered. If one has commitments to other people, then those commitments cannot be discarded to pursue pleasure or diversion. These values of commitment, of integrity, of right and wrong should be developed in us during childhood, and then reinforced during our adolescence and early adulthood. When we spend our adolescence and early adulthood in the company of warped and wicked minded people, and, as adults, spend our lives devoted to immediate gratification instead of considering our responsibilities to other people in our lives, then our own values become crooked and twisted and it becomes acceptable to harm others if one is pursuing one’s hedonistic impulses.
Nineteenth century writers such as Eliot, Austen and Tolstoy focus character development largely on the question of individual morals and values. Individuals who pursue hedonistic impulses always ruin their lives and hurt others. Characters who stick to a moral code, and refer to that in times of temptation, end up living long and contented lives.
I’ve just finished Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss and was struck by the scene in which Maggie is arguing for morality with Stephen Guest, who has taken her, somewhat against her will, down the river to marry her. Their marriage will hurt a number of people in their hometown, as each Stephen and Maggie are close to being engaged to other lovers.
Risking her own reputation, (as it would be far better for Maggie to marry Stephen than to return unmarried, which she does) Maggie adheres to her morals, which tell her that there can be no happiness in a union which arises from deception and hurting others.
Stephen urges Maggie to overcome her values and give in to feeling, “We have proved that the feeling that draws us towards each other is too strong to be overcome. The natural law surmounts every other, – we can’t help what it clashes with.”
Maggie responds, “It is not so, Stephen- I’m quite sure that is wrong. I have tried to think it again and again- but I see, if we judged in that way, there would be a warrant for all treachery and cruelty- we should justify breaking the most sacred ties that can ever be formed on earth. If the past is not to bind us, where can duty lie? We should have no law but the inclination of the moment.”
Each of us who has suffered the betrayal of a spouse, of a lover, has been the victim of a person whose unformed character development, whose justification of anything through satisfying their own impulses of the moment. We must ask ourselves hard questions about the integrity of this person who has betrayed us so that we are careful to never let another potential betrayer into our lives again.
Sexual betrayal does not just happen. Peoples’ clothing does not fall off them. No one holds a gun to anyone’s head and says, “You need to start spending a lot of time with this woman (or man) who you are attracted to/has been flirting with you/has invited you over for drinks without telling your partner.” No one is forced to move into a relationship with another person, or go to bed with them, without first letting his or her boyfriend/girlfriend/fiance/spouse/lover off the hook by breaking up with them before jumping into bed with the next person.
It’s very simple. Betrayal does not ‘just happen.’ The betrayer makes choices to trick, lie to, and hurt the person being betrayed. There is right and wrong. If you are in a monogamous relationship, then you have the right to expect your partner to be monogamous. If he or she cheats on you, then a verbal agreement, as well as an agreement of your heart and soul, is being broken. And it is being broken by the cheater’s own free will, and because he or she does not have a fully developed set of values which places commitments and duty above self-gratification and pleasure.