Wondering what we have become as a result of our trust issues
I went to my brother’s house a few weeks ago and on getting there, I realised that my phone battery had gone flat shortly before I arrived. As there was no other way to notify him of my arrival. I got out of my car and started banging on the gate but no one came out to open it.
I wasn’t sure what his relationship with his neighbours was like so I decided to look for a call centre rather than ask any of them for the use of their phone.
After walking for almost ten minutes searching for somewhere to make a call, surprise surprise, I found out that the street call centres no longer exist: blame the networks for selling one hundred naira recharge cards. Whilst searching for a call centre, I had also explained my predicament to some shop owners and asked them to use their phones. Every single person said no without explaining and it wasn’t until I asked the umpteenth person before I realised what was happening. The lady said she did not know me, could not verify my claim, and thus had no plans of getting into any trouble. The light bulbs went on and I didn’t bother asking anyone else. Luckily, once I got back to my brother’s, I met someone coming out so I was able to go in.
Trust is not a quality that anyone takes lightly neither is it one that is often earned automatically in these parts. It is only on the rare occasion that people assume a level of trust with others and even then, it is more likely based on situations external to us. These situations could include being vouched for by an authority figure or someone they trust, being well-known as a person of good character, or earning trust by association (the people you work or relate closely with), or on the assumption that professionals in your line of work can be trusted. Assuming trust based on the majority of the criteria I have provided can even be dangerous as human beings have been known to be just that, human.
We weren’t always this distrustful though.
Granted things have not always been perfect but we still maintained some level of trust in our interactions especially within our smaller communities. Parents could leave their kids with their neighbours without thinking the worst could happen. People employed domestic staff and didn’t have to worry that they would be butchered in their sleep. Shoplifting in supermarkets happened but was not the norm. People purchased items in the market and were sure the seller had not cheated them. People did business and could rely on the fact that the counter party’s word was his/ her bond. We generally all looked out for one another.
Now, things are different and expressions of distrust are evident around us. People hold information close to their chest all the time, sometimes even to their detriment. Whether it’s a job your close friends had no idea you were interviewing for till you resumed or a spouse you married when the people who thought they knew you had no idea you were even dating anyone not to talk of planning a wedding. And what about the baby bump pictures that appear on Instagram only when the baby has been born? Or your childhood friend who relocates abroad and doesn’t tell anyone within her close circle till she settles down? And even the broke person who doesn’t want to ask for help because he doesn’t want his matter tabled in public.
We now live in an age where the dominant belief is “every man for himself and God for us all”. When people offer to render help in our time of need, we are immediately suspicious and wonder what they seek to get out of it. We have stopped being our neighbour’s keeper not because we do not love our neighbour rather because we find that doing so can have adverse effects. For example, you stop to help the victim of a hit and run accident but you get detained because “you were the one who hit the victim with your car” or why else are you so concerned? Your neighbour notices strange activity in your compound and tells you but you turnaround and accuse them of not minding their business.
Even within families, sons dupe mothers and fathers scam daughters, siblings do not trust one another. Everyone has an agenda that often excludes everyone else. For many people, reneging on agreements comes easily: you can’t shake hands over anything because the next person probably prides themselves on being “sharp” AKA getting the best out of others even if it means shortchanging them. Our word is no longer our bond.
And what about our relationship with politicians and elected government officials? Years of failed promises have left us sceptical of any pronouncements they make so when people express cynicism about government plans, there is a basis for it. From Vision 2020 to one naira equalling one dollar, and promises of economic prosperity, we have heard them all and we believe none.
A few days ago, someone asked me a question. Nothing complex, just an ordinary question and in true Nigerian fashion, I replied with another question and then it hit me! Our response to questions is usually a follow-up question because we are unsure of the motive of the questioner. I mean, what exactly is their mission and intention in asking this question? Why do they want to know the answer to this question? What will they do with the information once they have it? This is what we have reduced ourselves to, people who don’t trust one another.
The impact of this trust deficit is quite major if we examine it carefully. Consider rent payments, in many countries, tenants pay rent monthly but in most parts of Nigeria, tenants pay annually. If you are moving into a new house, chances are high that you would pay two years rent in advance. Landlords can’t take the risk of monthly payments because people will default without shame so can you blame them?
Going out at night? You have to be careful because anything can happen. Many establishments can’t stay open for long for the same reason so the income that businesses could have earned and taxes that the government could have levied are reduced because the nighttime economy is underdeveloped.
As the world becomes much smaller through virtual connections, the need to enhance our trustworthiness can never be overemphasized. As a nation, foreigners would judge us by their interactions with our citizens and if they consistently meet people of dubious character, that would be their assumption of who we are.
What can we do to engender a higher level of trust in our society? I believe some sort of national reorientation is required, starting from the top but within smaller communities, so the traditional rulers, executives of residential estates, senior management in companies, and parents and older people in families can take the lead in walking the right talk.
All it takes is for each of us to strive to be of good character and slowly but surely, our trust levels will improve, and that is the way I see things today.