Fidelity, according to Merriam-Webster:
: the quality of being faithful to your husband, wife, or sexual partner
: the quality of being faithful or loyal to a country, organization, etc.
When we put our faith in someone, generally we expect them to be faithful to us. Generally. Of course there’s exceptions, but I’m working with generalities here, so we’ll go with that. Where this is the case, it can be tremendously hurtful when we find out that those we have faith in have been unfaithful to us. Sometimes we discover this infidelity ourselves. Other times someone else discovers it.
But what if you were the one to discover it among people you love with whom you are not in a relationship? To wit, what if you catch one of your dearest friends cheating on their partner? Lifehacker has a decent piece on this very dilemma. Patrick Allan starts off with the hardest part: deciding on whether or not you should say anything at all.
You might be wondering why this section is even here (you don’t want me to tell my best friend?!), but many people believe it isn’t their place to tell. There are a lot of things to consider before you say or do anything. This event, depending on how it’s handled, could potentially ruin your friendship. Your friend might “shoot the messenger” and get angry with you for telling them, they might get angry with you for waiting too long to tell them, or they might assume you had some part in covering it up. Even if you’re fortunate, and they don’t outwardly show any anger toward you, they might always think of you as a starting point for the whole painful incident. In their minds, everything was hunky dory until you told them, and they may want to distance themselves from anything that reminds them of the pain.
Quoting one Dr. White, the article goes on to say:
Keep in mind that you’re not a bad friend for carefully weighing all of your options here. In fact, taking the time to find the ideal way to approach (or not approach) this particular situation makes you a better friend.
For starters, you’re probably angry yourself, or at least upset, so you should definitely take some time to cool down before you make any moves. This is an extremely delicate situation for all parties involved, so no good can come from you blowing this thing wide open in a fit of rage. Separate yourself from the people involved and give yourself some time to think about things.
Right about there, the analogy I’m setting up probably starts breaking down uncontrollably. I share this much because it adequately describes how I feel about political disinformation. I like to think that not a single one of us actively seeks out a source of known lies to consider as our trusted source of information when making important life decisions, especially the kinds of life decisions that shape our fundamental views on reality, the world, the people in it, and how we ought to relate to them. Yet to one degree or another, we are all susceptible to the occasional disinformation, especially via the 24/7 news cycle dominated media world, and even more especially on the Internet. So much information, so little time. So who do we trust?
That’s tough. I wish I had an easy answer for you. For the most part, my own answer is, “nobody.” Consider and confirm. I don’t have this down to a 100% science yet, but I’ve been trying to get better at it.
Now, what does this have to do with cheating, relationships, and whether or not to tell your friend? I’m the friend who believes with a fair degree of certainty that some people I care about deeply are getting cheated on. They have put their trust, their faith, in sources of information that guide their world view and act accordingly. And I have seen the tell-tale signs of infidelity. Sometimes I see far worse than the signs.
Sometimes the unfaithfulness is entirely inadvertent, somewhere along the lines of the, “I didn’t mean to, but I wasn’t in my right mind, just kind of went with the flow, and next thing you know, things happened.”
Other times the cheating partner in disinformation knows exactly what they’re doing. Quite simply, they are lying to you, deceiving you, manipulating you. And you trust them with one of the most precious things you have…your mind.
So what am I, dear fellow American, to do? I mean, I probably don’t even know you. Should I just butt out? Leave it be? Let it go on like I saw nothing?
Or should I take the chance you’ll shoot the messenger? Gee, I hope that’s metaphorical. I mean, nobody wants to be told, “hey, um, you’re being cheated on.” Likewise, nobody wants to be told they’re being lied to. As Lifehacker points out in the article:
Lastly, you have to take the humiliation factor into account. When you get cheated on, you feel foolish for having put so much trust in someone. It’s incredibly painful, and knowing that others are aware of it all is even more painful.
Who wants to be told that someone has been making a fool of them, manipulating them, lying to them? Absolutely nobody, because, barring few exceptions, nobody likes being made a fool of and knowing that other people know they look like a fool.
So let’s steer away from romantic relationships and look at it as business instead. Maybe it’s a bit less personal. Let’s just say you’ve been getting your insurance from Bruce. Bruce is a great guy. You’ve known him for years. Sadly, I have, too. I’ve worked for him all those years. And I know Bruce is a real slimeball. Those premiums you’ve been paying? He’s been pocketing those. How do you think he takes those trips to Tahiti every year on a small time salary? You just haven’t had to put in a claim yet. Well, I’ve caught on to Bruce’s slimy ways, and I know you’re getting screwed.
What would you rather? I keep my mouth shut? Or let you know my suspicions and just why I have them? At least here we’re not talking divorce, STD’s, and who gets the kids, the house, and the money, right? You can either just switch to another company or maybe even it’s worth your while to take the fight to him.
In the analogy, what kind of friend would I be if I just whistled and walked away like I didn’t see anything? It’s not my money, after all. Or I’m not the one who might get the clap.
So here we are. I have good reason to think that you, or if not you, then someone you know, maybe someone you care about, is getting lied to on a regular basis. I feel like I’ve got to say something, because we’re fellow citizens in rough times (like there’s ever been any other kind). I feel like I’ve seen some of us handed a walking map of the homes of the rich and famous, but know that it’s actually the map to a minefield and exactly where not to step.
Less metaphorically, like I said earlier:
I like to think that not a single one of us actively seeks out a source of known lies to consider as our trusted source of information when making important life decisions, especially the kinds of life decisions that shape our fundamental views on reality, the world, the people in it, and how we ought to relate to them.
More than that, and in keeping with some of my disclaimer in my previous post, I believe most of us actively go out of our way to seek out the best guidance for our lives, and for a great many of us, that guidance is in the realm of faith or religion. Now, if an atheist is misled (and assuming the atheist is right), no biggie. If they’re wrong about some big issues in the world and their time comes, they take the big sleep and that’s it. The harm is done and there’s no further consequence. They still wouldn’t appreciate being misled, but at least there’s no perpetual penalty for it.
But for those of faith, generally speaking, being misled may have tremendous, eternal consequences. What if you’ve been told black is white, and wrong is right and decide accordingly? I ask, because whatever one’s faith, most of the faithful hold as a strong belief that lying, in and of itself, is a grave wrong. It’s one thing to be lied to. It’s another thing to perpetuate a lie. And I’m fairly sure no person of faith wishes to be lied to such that they do just that…perpetuate the lie. Now, in some faiths, once saved, always saved, so maybe it’s not such a big deal. But what about the ones for whom ongoing repentance is a real and legitimate concern?
Sure, maybe if you’re just repeating the lie but believe it to be true it’s just an error, and while harmful, there certainly shouldn’t be any eternal penalty for that, right? But just how much chance are you willing to take, especially when the lie(s) you’ve been told may have tremendous life and death consequences, perhaps not for you directly, but for others. Before repeating these things, how much certainty should you have? Is it really a safe bet to place so much trust in any source of information that you accept it uncritically just because it appeals to your current view which, in turn, are formed by other sources of information, some truer than others. Is it really so safe to believe and repeat it just because it confirms what you already think and you found it on the Internet?
This is where I choose to butt in, especially here. It’s one thing to see an intentionally awful person get the kind of reward due them for being intentionally awful. It’s another to see people of good heart and good intent misled, especially when, according to their own views, such misleading may have long lasting, perhaps even permanent, eternal repercussions.
So I mean to be that friend. The one who takes it upon himself to say something. You might not like it. Nobody likes to be told they’ve been made a fool of. Just don’t shoot the messenger, m’kay, unless it’s only metaphorically.
To be fair, I’m hardly one to claim I’m correct all of the time, so if you see me buying into a lie and have the evidence to demonstrate it, please pipe up and tell me.