Summertime. Perfect for plotting. Cats vacation. Mice play. Time, that dangerous thing, for some, opens up a little – and, for some with dangerous minds, they fill it with plans for power grabs, destruction or revenge.
At least, this used to be the way of things.
In political circles, or for those that circle boardrooms, summer is traditionally the time to organise your coup.
But there are so many seasons in a day now; plots to unsettle or unseat don’t wait for The Fall. Still, I imagine the enforced quarantine of the summer vacation provides many with the opportunity to review their situation. To consolidate. To conjecture. To imagine an alternative outcome.
Strange to think of all those eyes – surveying the misted wonder of the Tuscan hills or contemplating the deep blue of the Mediterranean, watching their compatriots queuing for Cornish pasties or over-subscribed rides at theme parks – that reveal nothing of the dark thoughts lodged behind them.
There they are, out in the world, just smiling people with unknown plans.
For some, the music of summer is a song of innocence. A return to something simpler. They won’t be reading ‘The Art of War’ or ‘The Prince’ on the beach. Rather, like Marie-Antoinette in her Petit Hameau, they will play at pastoral games instead, unaware, perhaps, of the hoards scenting blood beyond the boundaries of their own hedonism.
It being the twentieth anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, it’s no wonder the theme of this summer seems to be betrayal. We’re hungry again for the tale. It might even be juicer now. After all, we’re consumed all-year-round by acts of betrayal, from Game of Thrones to House of Cards to the Trump and May administrations.
Whatever shade of the political spectrum we brand ourselves, someone is plotting against us. Promises are broken. Ideas, and ideals, betrayed.
Don’t we all feel a little bit like that girl, woefully young and naive, hopeful and puzzled, being led up an aisle to an unknown destination, ushered on by lies and false promises – by smiling people with unknowable plans?
Betrayal. The very word, so grandiose, conjuring up images of courts and kings. The root is traitor, which takes us to treason – again, a monumental word – but it’s real basis, from the Latin, is something much simpler: a trade; to give something away.
We trade in little acts of betrayal every day. Paper cuts rather than wounds, but still with the power to sting. The shared confidence revealed to another party. The credit taken by another for something we’ve done. The unreturned call, text or email.
The question, for the hoodwinked, the slightly let down or, indeed, the deeply betrayed, is what to do with this new knowledge. When the falsehood, or false friend, is revealed, what do you do?
Firstly, we have to assess the scale of the battle. The malice aforethought. Ignorance, obliviousness, makes for many a skirmish, and many that our opponents are completely unaware of. We have to assess whether it’s a fight worth fighting.
If we think it is, as with most battles in life, we are, ultimately, left with two choices: fight, or flight.
A great deal of dignity can be found in saying nothing, in walking away. This, of course, relies on the option to do this. If this is an option, and you can rise above, forget (if not fully forgive) – get walking.
You might decide to fight fire with fire, playing a tit-for-tat game of careless talk, or virtue-signalling, or credit-stealing. Both time and energy consuming, as well as potentially too subtle, this approach is also particularly hard to follow if the source of your betrayal is an act of being ignored.
Indeed, as Princess Diana found in her court-imposed isolation, wounds cannot heal unattended. They fester. Justice, as dictated by the heart, demands truth and understanding. Silence, in that sense, is a crime in itself, another kind of betrayal.
When all the tit-for-tat was clearly not getting anybody anywhere (or diffusing any anger on either side), Diana did a very un-British thing to do: she called it out.
Some saw, and still see, this as the ultimate act of betrayal – the confessions of one woman’s heart, pushing down the walls of the palace from the inside. In doing so, classical columns were revealed to be as phoney as Marie-Antoinette’s mock pastoral. A fantasy. Nothing but a house of cards.
Personally, I’m a big believer in calling it out, if you can. Shouldn’t the oblivious learn of the consequences of their actions? How will they ever decide to be any different if they never know? Surely it’s only fair to give them the chance – to explain, to justify, to correct.
Justice demands the malicious should also be held to account.
Calling it out is the only way to prevent it from happening again.
The Royal ‘arranged marriage’ Diana suffered will never be allowed to happen again. The public will see to that. That’s a good thing. That’s a good legacy.
Whistleblowers tend to suffer from speaking their truth, whatever the eventual outcomes. But Diana’s is a success story. The truth did set her free. She may have been a little lost, a little unsure as to how to write the script ahead, at the time of her death, but she’d found her strength, had fought the battle of her life and was finding her voice in the aftermath.
We are helpless in the glare of the plotters, observing us from their sun-loungers, pushing us into position with invisible prods. We can’t always know what roles others have in mind for us. Betrayals are inevitable.
But what’s not inevitable, and the inspiration we can take from the Diana story, is that, however hard it might be, however painful, however exposing, treason – whether you fly from it or face it down – is survivable if you don’t betray your principles, or yourself.