Thursday, May 25, 2006


Since a couple students rescheduled at a last minute, I took the opportunity to read Blair Tindall’s ‘Mozart in the Jungle’, which my wife had brought home from the library. The book turned out to be quite different from what I had expected, and for the most part I found it quite thought-provoking. I shall be returning to it on a later date on this blog but want to discuss one element in it now: betrayal.

In the book Ms. Tindall writes at great length about a famous accompanist, Samuel Sanders. He was in high demand and a stage partner for well-known instrumentalists, such as Itzhak Perlman. Sanders was also a very sick man who went through two heart transplants. It hurts to read that when he was in the hospital, none of his ‘friends’ bothered to check on him. No visits, not even get-well cards. It was as if everyone had decided they would no longer benefit from his services and checked him off. Mr. Sanders recovered after the first transplant, however, and all of a sudden all the ‘friends’ were back, and he went on performing with his famous partners as before. The second time around the operation was too much, and the patient soon gave up on life and left us. Even this time visitors and well-wishers were nowhere to be seen.

This is one example of betrayal. Someone is liked and befriended because there is something to gain from the relationship. Once that no longer is the case, there seems to be no reason to continue the friendship, or even pretend to care. Are we really that calculating? The unfortunate answer is yes. Nowhere is betrayal as hurtful and devastating as in family relations, marriages and similar intimate relationships. Betrayal is the cause for many marriages or similar setups breaking up, and often there is an added element of revenge attached to it. Love and hate seem to go hand in hand.

Parents can betray their children, although more often it is the other way around. A father cutting contact with his daughter after learning about her terminal cancer is an extreme case, especially when he doesn't even attend her funeral a couple months later. A grown woman refuses to have contact with her mother for a couple decades, although she lives only a few minutes’ drive from her parents. Only after their mother is hospitalized with Alzheimer’s does her daughter start visiting. At that point the parent no longer recognizes her child, but that doesn’t seem to matter. Perhaps it gives the person a false sense that she has actually taken care of her aging mother. Once the mom passes away, the daughter is very upset to find the Will in which she has been almost left out any inheritance, and spares no expense to have it nullified in court on a technicality. – Here is a another true case, about four sisters: one also decides to have nothing to do with their mother. She does, however, show up for the funeral, perhaps to make sure she is going to receive her share. As she trusts no one, there will soon be five people dividing the estate: the four daughters plus an expensive lawyer. A houseful of valuable furnishings nets the estate less than $3,000 at the end, after the middlemen involved have fattened their pocketbooks.

A revengful spouse decides to try to bring her musician-husband's career to an abrupt end by writing inflammatory letters to everyone she could think of, then destroys his entire music library, filled with everything he had studied, plus manuscripts. Forging his signature on checks arriving in the mail doesn't bother her a bit: revenge feels sweet. She also manages to permanently ‘misplace’ his old Italian violin, and makes their child in her early teens threaten to sue the dad if he doesn’t pay her mother more than the court-ordered child support. Luckily in time the relationship between the father and his children heals, although one wonders what deep-rooted issues they may carry in their hearts as a result of brainwashing at an early age. So many divorced parents are guilty of this: it causes irreparable damage and not only in the other parent, as the children always suffer the most.

What about betrayal in the workplace? How many of us have spent years, even decades, serving selflessly in a job, and then find ourselves unwanted, often also humiliated, at an age when it is almost impossible to find employment elsewhere? What makes a person betray a loyal friend and employee? I don’t have an answer to that as I could never do such a deed. Does this Western society of ours really turn many of us into cold-blooded monsters, with no conscience and no moral values? It is sad to think of ‘humanity’ as only a system where people use each other, and once that’s no longer profitable or convenient, discard friends, spouses, parents and coworkers as waste and garbage. Every religion I know of emphasizes thinking of others before ourselves, but having become slaves of greed and ‘me-first’ capitalism obviously overrides this principle.