The pothole (the geological kind, not the road traffic kind) is, I think, an interesting phenomenon.
A little pebble gets caught in a crack or depression, swirls around and gradually, bit-by-bit, grinds away the underlying rock. It digs deeper and deeper, over hundreds, thousands, even millions of years.
I quite like potholes because they remind me that with persistence and time, even a little gravel can make big changes.
But the metaphor works the other way too…that over such a long period, a little pebble can do a lot of damage.
I’m starting to wonder more and more if there’s a sad, disturbing kind of pothole forming in in our (western, mainstream, Australian) culture. Here’s a couple of symptoms:
The vast majority of climate scientists are very clear about anthropogenic climate change. We are heating up our planet with our insatiable desire for burning fossil fuels, and we will pay a heavy price. More frequent, more intense weather events, rising sea levels, loss of habitat and flora/fauna, people dying. Those that are best placed to know, appear relatively certain that this is all true. Almost every counter-argument has been demonstrated to be false. And yet we stand on our right to hold our own opinion, be held hostage by big business and declare “climate change is crap” because “I know a guy who said….”
Immunisation rates are falling, with the result that herd immunity against long-ago contained diseases is now at risk in parts of Australia. Medical experts (those that are best placed to know) are clear about the value of immunisation, and the tiny risks involved in it. And yet we stand on our right to hold our own opinion, to deny our own children (and other children) this safety net.
Politicians are almost universally disliked and regarded as untrustworthy. For non-believers the same is true for religious leaders. And probably a long list of others. We who sit at home and google conspiracy theories feel quite justified in declaring that we know better than those best placed to know…about nearly any topic we care to name.
I personally am the “World’s Expert” (TM) on medicine, climate science, national leadership, international relations, economics, search and rescue for lost aircraft, Formula 1 Team Management, Australian Cricket team selection, NRL refereeing standards…and plenty more.
And so I make up my own mind, irrespective of the views of those who are best placed to know.
I’m not (really) interested in debating the pros and cons of climate science, religion or immunisation, but I am wondering whether these things are symptoms (rather than causes) of a bigger issue:
The erosion of trust.
As a society I can’t help but wonder if we are becoming a place in which trust is an ever decreasing commodity. With the rise of the individual and of self-determination, comes a first subtle, but now accelerating erosion of trust.
I don’t trust politicians, I don’t trust the media, I don’t trust scientists, I don’t trust religious leaders…on and on it goes. I don’t trust my neighbours enough to let my kids walk to school alone.
And sure, let’s be fair and honest, some of those whom we no longer trust bring it on themselves (I’m looking at you Australian politics), but just as often it’s because I get an idea in my head that I know better.
I know better than the climate scientist, the immunologist, the referee, the footy selector.
And so the next time we disagree, I’ll trust them a little less. And a little less. And a little less.
Until there’s just not a whole lot of trust left.
Mis-trust might just be the pebble that is digging away at the bedrock, forming a deeper and deeper pothole.
And trust, it seems to me, is one of those things that is self-fulfilling. If I exhibit trust, then those I trust are more likely to act in a a trustworthy way, and so I’ll trust them more (and so on). Could the reverse, I wonder, also be true?
If my pondering has any merit (and lets be frank, as I’ve already announced, I’m the World’s Expert (TM), so it must) the question must be, what to do about it? How to remove the pebble of mistrust and start to repair the damage?
Is the answer to try harder to trust the people around me? The people who are best placed to know? To explicitly put my trust in them and demand trustworthy action?
But just as important, it seems to me, the answer is for me to act in a trustworthy manner myself – to build the pool of communal trust that is going around, by ensuring that my family, my friends, my colleagues, those I support in my daily work, my neighbours (those I encounter as I live my life)…they can trust me.
To trust, and be trusted.
Sounds like community.
(p.s. just so we’re really clear…the “World’s Expert” (TM) claim is an attempt at humour…)