A Question of Trust

A few days ago, I took a bus to London. I used to take this bus a lot when I was at university, but haven’t been on it for a while. The minute the engine started, I was startled by a loud announcement that starting telling us all “the rules of the bus”. The bellowed information (which went on for about ten minutes) ranged from the blinking obvious to the absurd; from the mundane to the ridiculous.


Instructions included:

  • telling us that it was against the law to not put our seat belts on
  • telling us that we may be in danger of bags falling on our heads if we went round a corner fast
  • telling us that the bus station was a “dangerous place” as it is full of moving buses (!) and we should watch our backs
  • telling us what to do if we felt hot or cold (including to add or remove clothing layers!)
  • telling us how to walk down the bus if we wanted to use the toilet (apparently because it is a long bus, there is danger of being thrown about near the back…)
  • telling us to be nice to people behind us if we wanted to lean back on our seat
  • telling us what to do in an emergency.
  • telling us (well, telling the gentlemen folk) to sit down on the toilet so they don’t wee on the seat (I kid you not)
  • telling us to have a nice journey and to enjoy the views from the windows (!)

Add to this regular announcements every time we stopped; advice on “how” to get off the bus when we stopped; updates on the progress and eta and you can perhaps see why I came away from the journey a little exhausted (it was, midst all of this madness, only a two and a half hour bus ride with not a child in sight (an addition which could maybe (but actually, not) have excused the indoctrination…)

My point (other than just writing to share banal information about London buses) is my musings about the question of trust. It seemed to me that all of the utter nonsense that came with this bus ride was derived from a total lack of trust in people. Not only a total lack of trust in our ability to “behave” whilst taking the bus, but also a lack of trust in our courtesy to other people, our ability to look after ourselves and our basic common sense as humans. 

It strikes me as somewhat sad that this is the state of progress that we are currently living in; a society so terrified of ramifications that it covers all possible outcomes; a society so distrustful of its members that it nannies them in every element of their lives to keep them safe from harm (or more importantly to keep themselves safe from being blamed for anything, as we are also encouraged to take no responsibility for our own actions, but to blame others for our failures. More and more, we are breeding societies that are indoctrinating and enforcing rule-following from every angle (I went to a public toilet a few days ago with detailed instructions on the wall of “How to wash my hands”…hmm, thanks for that essential life wisdom).

(On a side point, London transport has long distrusted us to know how to behave, and posters such as this one)


...have started to be replaced with "poetiquette":  using (you could,and I would, argue butchering) some of the finest poems of old to teach people how to behave (because we're not to be trusted to just know).


Tfl tackles tube etiquette with poetry

Beyond blatant distrust from authorities, I feel more and more that we are being bred to feel a distrust of each other; to find fault in, or to fear one other. Reading the news always reminds me of the negativity and vindication that sells stories in this country (and so many others). Rather than approach anything that happens with a sense of empathy or understanding, we are constantly encouraged to judge, to fear or to ostracise. It is interesting, in the light of the Paris attacks, to read and listen to the myriad responses to the tragedy; the blame, the fear, the finger pointing and an “us versus them" sentiment that many people seem to house a great desire to fuel. I have heard so much negativity about other people over these past few weeks (beyond recent occurrences in France): people blaming others for things, writing off and generalising swathes of people as failures or outcasts because of the actions of a few. Empathy is about as far away from what we are being taught to nurture in our press and in our society as unicorns are. This push away from empathy more and more seems to be breeding a sense of distrust in those around us that we do not know; pushing us as a society further in to a fearful isolation away from each other, rather than into a collective society.

If only John Lennon was in charge (a cheering little comic strip that I came across this morning) ...

A friend recently responded to some of my musings on this topic with a reminder of the McDonalds incident (the woman who sued the golden arch owners for burning her lips ‘cos the coffee was hot…hmm, wouldn’t really take Sherlock to work that one out… )and how people always love to find loopholes and to sue. The sentiment expressed was that we should just accept it and cover our backs.

This coffee example is one that is used in a lot of guises – the stupidity of common sense; the importance of warnings; the ability to pass blame and void responsibility. I think it is a great example to consider when questioning trust, but I strongly disagree with the idea that we should accept it as a good example for progress. Through this (and the myriad cases of “consumer rights” now being washed through the courts, including someone suing Red Bull for “not giving him wings”…and winning…) we have created a system of bypassing responsibility and placing it onto the shoulders of others; of those who have more power/money/authority. Yet we have made this system, it hasn’t made us. I don’t think we should accept things and work with them just because they are there; I think we should question why they are there and the purpose they are serving us and wonder whether it is the right system

The culture of suing, born ironically in the Land of the Free (aka America) is, in my opinion, somewhat absurd. It is fast growing too; and slowly seeping its way into other cultures and countries. Equating social responsibility with a price tag; making people feel that if something goes wrong they can get some money out of it – what sort of message is that sending us all for a start? And what sort of responsibility is it encouraging any of us to take about how we interact with each other, if we can blame someone else for everything?

What worries me a great deal is the lack of questioning that seems to accompany this distrust that is being encouraged from all angles; replaced instead with a blithe acceptance that this is just the way of things: we don't trust people so we legislate against them, sue them or just refuse them point-blank.  When trying to rationalise a few days ago with a potential employer (who was refusing to process my application because I hadn’t got any document with a UK address on it from the last three months) as to why this document was necessary for me to get the job, she refused to answer my question; just kept reiterating, “It is the law. I can’t trust you unless I have this piece of paper, as I don’t know what you might have been doing without it. I don’t know the reasons for these laws, that’s not for me to think about, I just enforce them”.

Well, if we are not supposed to think about why these laws are being brought into existence, then who is thinking about them? I mean, if all of these policies of distrust are being created from somewhere up high, why are we not all wondering more about why they are there and what they are there for? Why are we not questioning the absurdity of some of the things we’re being told to do, rather than blithely accepting that this is simply the way of the world?  Why is the world increasingly and somewhat desperately embracing a total lack of logic and a growing distrust of common sense and human goodness (plus endless paperwork and constantly germinating new policies) to allow us to trust each other? Since when did the whole world’s inhabitants become so dishonest? (or have I just missed a policy document somewhere along the way ascribing this logic whilst I’ve been out of the country?) Hmm.

Respect for others – giving everyone the chance to earn trust – is that not a better way than expecting the worst; expecting to be screwed over and so covering our backs in advance? Human beings are flawed in many ways; we all have mischievous little demons inside of us that want to scamper out every now and then. If those little demons are expected, then they have free reign to scamper. If they are not invited, it is harder for us to wreak havoc and more likely we wish to earn that trust given to us.

I know an idealistic view of the world is somewhat naïve, but I also think that we can build trust that is meaningful to allow a sense of worth and a sense of responsibility to grow; whether in the workplace, in a relationship or in our daily interactions with others. I always choose to see the good in people; and if they want to show me their little demons (no sexual pun intended) then that is a decision that they have chosen and they will have to live with that choice.

Rachel Musson