A couple of weeks ago, when I was in Mysore, India, I wanted to rent a motorbike. I called several rental companies but there was none available. But then I got hold of a phone number from someone willing to rent out his bike (that is pretty much how things work here).
I called and an Indian lady picked up. She told me to come and see the bike. We also agreed on the price, about 60 Euro for 2 weeks. I was excited and quick to jump into an Uber.
It was parked on the street when I arrived. A beaten, old bike with fading black paint and rust all over the place. It perfectly fit into the scenery though, sitting in the red dirt in front of an old villa, which was equally “lived in”, or rather worn out, but at the same time as graceful as it’d ever been. There is something about India, here the old seems to be cherished and admired and used, unlike in the west where we often try to deny or hide the fading nature of everything that surrounds us.
The lady I talked to on the phone looked like straight out of a Bollywood movie. She wore a flamboyant traditional Indian dress in all colors of the rainbow.
The bike started right away, which was good enough for me. I’ll take it, I said. When I gave her the money she asked to see my ID.
Damn, of course she wanted to see my ID, I thought, why did I forget to bring it? The traffic back to the hotel will be awful.
But when I told her she just shrugged and handed me the second pair of keys.
I was looking at her in disbelief. Wait… I can still take the bike? It seemed so. Not 100 percent sure though, I askingly mumbled something like, well then… I will see you in two weeks…? She smiled, nodded and walked away.
Can you believe it?
She did not know me, but still trusted that I’d do the right thing, ie, actually return the bike and also report and pay for any damage I might cause.
It also required me to trust her. There was neither a written contract, nor had we recorded any of the countless pumps and scratches. I simply trusted that she’d no interest in screwing me over either.
It feels good to have such trusting relationships with strangers. It is testament of how – deep down – we all believe in the good in people, isn’t it?
Last month, back in India, I again rented a motorbike, and also a house. Both times I could not pay up in full (damn banks), but it was not an issue. Come and bring it whenever, I was told both times, again without showing any ID.
It was beautiful, but then it made me think….
What’s that trust actually based on?
My first instinct was money. Do they trust me because I am rich in their world? Because my white skin says I am good for it? Is their trust so strong because it was hardly ever betrayed by people like me, who can easily afford to be honest? I mean, you’d really have to be some special kind of asshole to fuck someone over, over a couple of Euros.
The more I thought about it the stronger I believed that this was in fact the case. It made me sad. Screw “this shows we believe in the good in people”…
They don’t actually trust me, they trust my money!!
I could not stop thinking about it.
What does it take to trust someone?
Is it about religion? Is it in fact fear of lower rebirth or bad karma that allows such a high level of trust in India?
Perhaps, yes, to some extent.
But I think it’d be foolish to think that that’s all there’s to it… After all, they just act logically.
You sell apples at a market and you need to pee urgently. Who would you ask to look after your apples while you are gone, assuming you’d like to keep all of your stock? A beggar, or a rich business man? Who’d be more likely to steal from you? The answer is pretty clear, don’t you think?
It is easier to trust someone who’s needs are met, who does not lack food, or shelter, or perspective. And vice versa it is pretty hard, not to say stupid, to trust someone who fights for survival.
So, in those instances where we don’t trust someone it is often in fact the circumstances we don’t trust, rather than the person caught up in them, which is fair enough. Trust should come easily but definitely not blindly.
Of course, it is not always that simple. People don’t only steal because they lack basic needs. You can see this, eg, with asylum seekers, who receive shelter and food but sometimes still commit crimes against property. One explanation is that we need more than just food or shelter. We also need perspective, we need opportunities, and we need be able to actively work on them, rather than – in the instance of asylum seekers – being forced to sit around and do nothing, all while waiting for the big bureaucratic wheels to turn (or rather grind).
So, what to take from this?
For me it means we should try and trust as much as possible and whenever trust cannot be given, we should try to understand why, try to see the human and the circumstances behind the threat.
Perhaps there might be occasions where you can in fact help, and thereby make someone somewhat trust-”worthy” again.
Don’t get me wrong though, very often this won’t be the case, life is often much more complicated than that. I just think it’d be a great baseline, a good starting point when judging a situation.
Not to absolve, to justify any wrongdoing or threat, or, even worse, to feel guilty about our more fortunate circumstances. Rather, simply to understand better and to keep an open heart for when we in fact encounter situations where reaching out achieves more than lashing out.
PS: I can only remember one time when my trust was betrayed and it only cost me a couple of Euro. Totally worth it. All other times, including when I somehow ended up in a dirty shed on an island in Thailand, surrounded by Meth-smoking locals, all while having 10000 Dollar in my pocket, my trust did not bite me in the ass.
Try it sometime.