I live in two realities. The first is bitter, divisive, argumentative and full of people with strong opinions who are not afraid to tell the world exactly what they think. That reality is formed by people whose ideology is more important than their humanity. There is little polite discourse, and what little there is falls apart quickly. There is little or no trust, only different sides hammering our ideas onto others who have to wait to offer their counterpoints. Inevitably one person has the strength to withstand the critics and rises to the top of the heap, most often because of their ability to drown out all reason and stick to what they believe is right. The rest get tired of the debate and slink away. Nobody wins, everybody is frustrated and all go back into the holes we have created.
Reality two is full of the same people, only we flourish as a society, drive safely, build things that others enjoy, do community service, spend money we have earned at the jobs we do supporting the other people whose existence we share, exchange pleasantries, hold doors, offer a nod and a smile to passersby and take care of our families. When we communicate it is most often pleasant; seldom are voices raised and feelings are not purposely hurt. Each individual participating in this world trusts that the people we share it with are not out to harm us and are busy making their own lives successful.
I prefer to live in reality number two, the real world, where people can be touched, and the meaning of words better understood when heard, rather than read. Reality number two is the cold, anonymous, untrustworthy world of social media and “fake news.”
Without trust we have nothing. Without the belief that the people and institutions we share our existence with are trustworthy the act of living freely and without fear is lost. Travel is impossible without trust; those other drivers need to be trusted to follow the rules or chaos on the roadway reigns. Food without trust in its makers loses its appeal, and far too few of us can depend on our hunting, farming and fishing skills for survival. We need to believe, without hesitation that what we consume will not kill us, or make us sick. We cannot lose trust in our medical professionals, or the drugs they prescribe to treat our conditions. Trust in our representatives helps us manage our lives without the added burden of being responsible for the bigger picture. Trust is essential.
The ingredient that has allowed civilizations to flourish has always been trust in others. When suspicion replaces that trust, and believing we are being tricked takes hold, decay begins. Disillusionment festers, and is fed with the resentment of every person who has lost their ability to trust others. When the intricate systems which are made possible by our trust are lost something always waits to take their place. Most often brute force replaces it, and the environment necessary to maintain the intricate balance only achievable with trust is crushed.
Then, the best we can expect is survival. People will instinctively seek out others like them, and groups of people with common beliefs will meld together. Tribes form, and the strongest members of the tribe become leaders, not because they have the best interests of all in mind, rather they have a thirst for power. They crush new ideas, and create an atmosphere of fear among their people.
I do not want to live as a member of a tribe led by somebody who is in charge because he or she is stronger than me. I want to be part of something better, a world where I am free to pursue what I believe are my best abilities, figure out how best to make those abilities attractive to other people, and use my skills to be part of a culture of trust that enables me to obtain everything I need to exist in peace and safety. The real world is far more desirable.
Michael Morse, , a monthly contributor is a former captain with the Providence Fire Department and author.