Published Humanitas, Volume XIII, No. 2, 2000


In the past few years the charge of “betrayal” has become all too common. Yet, with all the fanfare and publicity attached to these charges, there has been surprisingly little written about what we even mean by the term. It clearly matters a great deal to us. An act of betrayal makes us appreciate Dante’s reserving the inner- most ring of the Inferno for the betrayers. We can even say there is a characteristic “feel” to betrayal. The betrayed experience powerful sensations of violation; they feel used and damaged. Betrayal, however, elicits more than strong feelings. Psychologists offer clinical evidence attesting to the devastating effects of betrayal. Betrayal acts as an assault on the integrity of individuals, affecting the capacity to trust, undermining confidence in judgment, and contracting the possibilities of the world by in- creasing distrust and scepticism. Betrayal changes not only our sense of the world, but our sensibility toward the world.

A charge of betrayal, then, must be taken seriously. While it may be that a particular case of betrayal is justified, the burden of offering that justification clearly belongs to the betrayer, not to the betrayed. Many, however, have been accused of betraying someone and felt wronged.

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