Open Letter on Trust Issues

“We live in an era of fraud in America. Not just in banking, but in government, education, religion, food, even baseball… What bothers me isn’t that fraud is not nice or that fraud is mean. For fifteen thousand years, fraud and short-sighted thinking have never, ever worked. Not once. Eventually you get caught, things go south. When the hell did we forget all that? I thought we were better than this, I really did.” Steve Carell as Mark Baum in “The Big Short” (2015)

It was during college and I was over at a friend’s house. Her younger brother came home and shared a story about how he and some friends had gone driving around the area and stopped at a few houses to rearrange their Christmas decorations. I mean stuff like taking one of the lighted reindeer and mounting it on another. They did not destroy any property, just rearranged it.

The story turned my stomach all the same. I saw disrespect and a total lack of consideration. Had other kids come to their house and messed with the Christmas decorations, he would not revel in the joke. He would feel outrage that someone tampered with their property in such a way.

To them, this was different. They were kids having harmless fun.

It’s not different. It never is. The difference is how the individual perceives the story. In this version, they were the jokers having innocent fun. In the alternate version, they would be the victims. Same act, and from the perspective of the aggrieved is wrong in any case.

Before going any further with this, it’s important to distinguish inconsiderate behaviour from a lack of consideration. People make mistakes and become blinded by circumstance that might cause them to do something without proper consideration. It may be connected directly with their nature. One should not begrudge someone who makes a mistake or is in the process of improving. The subject of this piece are those who are inconsiderate. They do things to benefit themselves without regard for how it affects others.

Speaking My Truth

Now, I want to be clear about this piece. This is not science. I am not coming from a place of academia, I am coming from a place of perception and personal experience. This is anecdotal and the testimony of a man diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder and anxiety. I am obsessed with morality, rules, order, and perfection to the point that the medical community acknowledges it as a disorder – take this for what it’s worth.

I find it difficult to trust people because, as Mark Baum said in The Big Short, we live in an era of fraud. Trust is hard earned and easily broken. Deception often takes two forms: the obvious (those who are pathological and clearly lying) and the subtle (those who seem impossibly honest). The latter group makes things difficult for everyone – honest people do exist, but a few rotten apples spoil the bunch. When we live in a world of fraudsters, manipulators, and gaslighters, honesty starts to become an indicator of the worst sort of person.

The trouble with lying is that one does not eventually stop believing the lies; one eventually stops believing the truth.

When I encounter a person who is solid about most things but then reveals an inconsiderate nature about even one topic, I no longer feel I can trust or associate with that person (I refer you to the disclaimer earlier about mistakes – these are people resolute about their inconsideration). The problem is the number of people who fall into this.

What makes the matter especially troubling is that I do not come by the conclusion as the recipient of the inconsiderate behaviour. In my interactions with someone, I will see them do something inconsiderate towards another person. Pride, prejudice – whatever it may be, they refuse to acknowledge how what they are saying or doing affects others. I often understand it (without condoning it), because the person often has a point. The other person also has a point though, and reality exists somewhere between the two versions.

In a world where this phenomenon occurs regularly, I feel readers double-clutching at the “fine people on both sides” tone of that last paragraph. This is the art of debate and disagreement. There exists a great chasm, not a fine line, between “the other side has a point” and “the two points are morally equivalent”.

It could be that one side is 99% right and the other side has but one valid point. That does not mean that we deny that valid point out of partisan pride. That one point becomes a sticking point and grows into a wildfire. It drives people to polarity where the parties agree on the overwhelming majority of things.

Precisely that. How often do I find myself standing between two groups of friends or should-be allies who are at odds over some point and demanding that I take sides. Failure to take a side is to say that the others are right or have moral equivalence. No man is an island, but I find I am often a barrier island with only a handful of bridges connecting me to the mainland.

In prior years I believed that isolation to be the result of failing to understand social cues. Quite the opposite. I learned through talking to others that I have sharp insights and quite a bit of social intelligence. What I failed, and continue to fail, to understand is why.

Academically I do understand why in at least some of the cases. But why? Tactics like gaslighting work, but one could achieve the same ends through alternate means and the conclusion would be honest. It would have an unshakeable strength on the foundation of honesty. Because of fear or insecurity the person chose a duplicitous path and might have achieved their desired ends, but the slightest breeze will topple it. It will cause others to distrust them. It will reveal the extent of the damage they wrought, Why?

I recognise a degree of ‘street smarts’ behind a lot of this. Knowledge is power, right? People play their cards close to their vest and take a tactical approach to situations because they know other people are duplicitous and no one wants to be made the fool. In matters that are not life and death though, I consider that approach short-sighted. A person yields the moral high ground over the suspicion that the other person has already ceded theirs. Maintaining it and being made a fool reveals the other person for who they are. Tomorrow is another day, and I want to begin it with integrity and the well-earned trust of others.

Success and Winning

I accept a degree of selfishness and self-centeredness from all people. It gets a bad rap sometimes. We are responsible for our lives and have to look after that. After looking after oneself, one looks after the people nearest and dearest. Again, no arguments from me.

That said,

I look at the people society regards as successful. The CEOs, the producers, the politicians. I look at them and the scandals associated with them and think, “How many of these people are where they are today because they did or continue to do awful things with the justification, ‘This is what is necessary to get ahead’?”

In the wake of #MeToo and #TimesUp, one hears questions like, “How many powerful men are going to get taken down by this liberal hysteria?” That’s not what I see. I see generations of “This is how things were done” finally facing its reckoning. Powerful people who gaslight, manipulated, coerced, or otherwise pressured other people to get where they are. Does that make them terrible people? No, at least not in every case. It’s an aspect of who they are, but a terrible aspect for which they’ve never been accountable. Sincere apologies, efforts to make amends for damage done, and a committment to change would be the course.

Then we have politics. Ideologically, I do think there are points on both sides. Morally, I think the Republican party is repugnant. I won’t conceal that I intensely dislike, Trump, Pence, Nunes, Jordan, Graham, and all the conservative, conspiracy-theory spouting talking heads propping up their politics. Reasoned political debate is all well and good, but this is next-level despicability.

That said, I do not agree with the Democrats or their approach 100% either. Example: I think the Trump-Giuliani et al involvement with Ukraine is horrible (I don’t care if that’s how “diplomacy works” according to dishonest people) and is an impeachable offence. I also believe responsibility for that originates with the House conducting an investigation. That’s not what I see. I see a public circus with Democrats accusing the President rather than investigating and Republicans defending the President rather than investigating. Why? Not to make a determination about what happened – party lines already dictate that – but to appeal to voting bases to apply pressure to the other side.

It’s not about what is true. It’s about power.

Gerrymandering, voter registration (when used as a form of voter suppression), and the like – it’s politicians rigging the game to help them win. We can pretend it’s so that they are in office to enact their policies, but there’s no end game. In two years we have more elections and the process repeats, which can undo everything from before.

All of these things existed before, but I have watched it laid bare among the general population with increasing vitriol.

The 2008 housing market crisis covered in The Big Short – people who knew it was wrong but saw an opportunity to make money. Politician who fear the will of the people does not reflect theirs, so they engage in tactics to adjust who does the voting (when the Kremlin isn’t directly manipulating it). Banks and financial groups face one scandal after another. Social media….Facebook is basically malware the way they allow groups and individuals to leverage it. So on and so on and so on.

Somewhere in most interactions is someone seeking advancement or profit who does not care about my side of the interaction beyond how it might benefit them. Perhaps that benefit is mere social reciprocity, as has revealed itself as the case among some of my friends. I’ve seen one cross a line and then, rather than own up to the mistake, entrench and the sides diverge.

Sometimes that seems fair, such as if the one party committed some egregious offence and refused to accept accountability. Other times – mountains out of mole hills because the mole hill is, “They aren’t caving to the way I want them to be.” It goes back to the nature of disagreement.

I’m not perfect in all of this, but do hope that I’m owning up to my mistakes and endeavouring to do better; earning the trust and respect of others through action rather than platitude. I need to see more of it in the world.

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