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Betrayal and lies

It takes a lot to become a close friend. Think about it. You sacrifice a little of your values, your ideals and principles to uphold true friendship, writes Arif Zakaria.

india Updated: Apr 06, 2009 20:59 IST

Hannah Montana sings, “You’re a true friend, you’re here till the end.” How do you respond to a ‘turncoat’ friend? How do you react when a friend suddenly develops a conscience?

If a close friend who diligently kept all your secrets, kept an account of all your wrongdoings and all acts of indiscretion, suddenly decides to blow the whistle, will that friend be a traitor or will you hoist him or her on a pedestal for speaking the truth, however bitter?

It takes a lot to become a close friend. Think about it. You sacrifice a little of your values, your ideals and principles to uphold true friendship.

Your friend and you could be poles apart in beliefs and habits, but once you tie the ‘best friend’ knot, you set aside these disparities. You don’t hold mirrors to each other, as you try to fit into each other’s skin.

One of my neighbours had to confront this reality last week. She had invested all her life’s savings in her best friend — offloaded secrets, shared hidden desires, admitted irrationalities and even confessed to an affair, all for safekeeping.
But overnight, this friend activated a dormant conscience and blurted out the truth to my neighbour’s husband, causing a deep dent in their marriage. And it seems irreparable now.

So my thought for this Sunday — Is true friendship a burden and a strain on our value system as lies, cover-ups and a stoic silence to their misdeeds becomes a part of the territory?

Laws of friendship
Who is to blame here? The friend who betrayed my neighbour, or my neighbour who indulged in wrong acts that demanded an expose? Their relationship has soured to such an extent that both refuse to acknowledge each other in public and spew venom on each other in private.

My neighbour cries betrayal, while her friend screams that the volume of lies in their friendship cauldron was so heavy that her value system burst. I’m at a loss to assess this situation because in a strange way, I feel both are at fault.
If we put our lives in peril by trusting someone else with sensitive information, then that person had better shut up or walk away. You may choose to discontinue friendship with someone but you cannot violate the cardinal unspoken and unwritten tenet of true friendship called ‘trust’.

Core values
Likewise, every one of us has some core values. No one is a saint but we uphold in our own clumsy way, fragments of truth and nurture a half-baked conscience. This makes us who we are and different from all the other living beings on earth.
Is the truth important then? Or is it important to just shut up and keep your best friend happy? Either hold on to your values or hold on to your best friend! All our friendships ultimately oscillate between these two maxims.

As I write this, my neighbour’s divorce seems inevitable. I’m worried about the fact that the course of her life will alter dramatically in the next few months.

But once the dust settles, the wounds start healing and a new life soothes all, I hope my neighbour and her friend, become one again. For in the long run, truth does have the paradoxical power to hurt and heal.