Feb 12

In what do we trust?

One of the interesting discoveries I have made during my time here in Uganda is that trust is a beautiful and fragile luxury, a precious gift that is not to be taken for granted.  

 This revelation was prompted by a recent experience when leaving a backpackers hostel at Murchison Falls national park. As we were on our way to a hostel run by the same company in Kampala the manager, a British bloke, said “just settle up your bill when you get to Kampala”. Our guide, a lovely Ugandan called Joel, was shocked “you Muzungus [foreigners] really trust each other, wow!” He simply was amazed that this bloke might trust us enough to let us go without paying in full. Never mind that he had our passport numbers, emails and work details! As Joel put it ” too many of us [ugandans] think in the short term, so we can’t trust each other”.

Sadly, due to the complex and corrupt history of Uganda, culturally and socially trust has become a scarce commodity. Mistrust is the norm, secrecy is commonplace and consequently this has far reaching impact on the development of lasting and positive personal and professional relationships.  

 Of course there are many trustworthy people here, good and genuine people who want to help their fellow Ugandans to overcome the challenges of poverty, ill health and socio-political disruption. The tragedy is that many find it difficult to place their trust in even the most honest and kind of their community. So many have been deceived for so long by so many, both nationally and locally, that fear of deception has become the dominant concern that underpins the vast majority of interactions. 

Take for example marriage… When one is getting married here I am informed by Ugandan friends that one avoids making any announcements until the last possible moment for fear that “your enemies” might try to sabotage you plans. Once married, there is the common perception that for many couples it is unlikely any marriage will remain monogamous and that it is to be expected that one or both partners may deceive their spouse by fraternising outside marriage. 

Or consider if you will money… I am informed by local Ugandans that lending money here is done only with the expectation that it is not really a loan it is a gift, that business ventures are risky and fraud is commonplace.  

 These perceptions may or may not be true (scientific studies pending 😉), but what is most upsetting is that the majority of people here believe them to be true. Faith in your fellow man is scarce and reserved largely for those who are most pious. 

This does not mean however that generosity or kindness are in short demmand… Far from it! Every day I see people selflessly helping others. But the trust? The trust is simply few and far between.

Why does this bother me so much? 

I am a fan of exploring emotions, a deeper understanding of which informs the holistic person centred side of my work as a doctor. Plutchik has identified 8 core emotions, and several other emotional states that are a fusion of those core emotions. Plutchik hypothesises that love is a merger between trust and joy, a concept that I personally find very helpful in understanding relationships and perceptions of “love”. In the case of Uganda, this hypothesis means that the feeling of love, true pure love, must be very hard to come by.  You might find that someone gives you great joy, but without being able to truly trust them, that contentment and security that comes with the feeling of love continues to elude you. 

Of course following that same theoretical course means that submission (a combination of fear and trust) is equally hard to come by… Which judging by the current political tensions and the fiestiness of my friends and colleagues seems to ring true. 

Of course this is all mere conjecture and possibly outrageous hyperbole, based only on anecdotes and limited observations. However considering this concept  has led me to reconsider some of my interactions here. It has provided me with a renewed perspective and a deeper understanding of how best to develop my personal and professional relationships. 

It is all about building trust… Ensuring that my actions and behaviours are clear and unambiguous, to enable others to begin to trust in me and giving to others that precious unconditional gift of my trust in them. It might be a risky move and of course will be difficult to sustain, as I am only human. However, I hope that given time and perseverance it will aid the growth stronger and deeper personal bonds and a more productive and open working environment.

Watch this space… 


Permanent link to this article: https://www.clairemariethomas.com/2016/02/in-what-do-we-trust/

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