Issue 139

Who can we trust? Whose words will rescue us?
by Lillian Allen

When I was growing up in Spanish Town, Jamaica,
people had two different types of currencies in
conducting commerce; you could pay in cash for
something or you could trust it. “Mi madah sen’ mi
fi trust a loaf of harddough bread and some butter
’til Friday.” Trust was a popular currency and was
both transactional and relational, the way it should
be. In some communities it was more popular than
cash. Trust was metaphysical in the way that it
moved through space and time to materialize goods
to sustain life. There was a rhythm and recurrence to
the cycle of trust and predictability to the promise
of payment. For these folks, the shopkeeper would
just make a mental note. For others who had a
harder time of meeting their basic needs and had no
rhythm to repayment, the shopkeeper would keep
a kind of ledger. It was such an honour system that
those who were on rock-hard times and couldn’t
deliver on the promise to pay were cause for great
sympathy and even charity. What was owed would
be suspended indefinitely or simply forgiven, and
in addition, these folks would be given what they
needed for free. However, if you were not a person
of accountability and messed up, the consequences
were great. Simply, you would not be given any more
credit; your currency of trust could not be used
again for anything or with anyone. You felt ashamed.
There was an instinct that told you that you were
part of an ecosystem and you had damaged it.
In a rum shop where trust had been broken, a sign
warned: “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash.”

I remember a time when a person was as good as
their word as a societal norm. Our need to trust and
be trusted was once fundamental to who we are as
individuals and as a society. Accountability was a
badge of honour. I would venture to say that between
immoral predator priests, crooked politicians and
falsehood in advertisements, the public notion
of trust took a beating. And not to overlook
dishounourable authority figures, the unconscionable
greed of business cultures, the Madoffs of the world,
alternative facts and the all-too-commonplace Hydro
One-type debacles further impugning notions of
public trust and normalizing its demise. Private
notions were always complicated and contested, what
with the rate of infidelity, incest and sexual abuse all
from the very people one should trust the most. A loss
of private and public trusts is psychic abuse.

I am reminded of an anecdote of a man who had fallen
down a cliff and had grabbed onto and hung from the
branch of a jutting root, dangling above jagged rocks.
He pleaded: “God, I know you’re up there. I have complete
trust in you, please tell me what to do.” After a
short electric pause, a god-like voice boomed back,
“Yes, son it’s me God, just relax and let go. You’re gonna
be alright.” The man glanced down at the eager
jaggedness of rocks dozens of feet below then frightfully
tightened his grip and shouted in an existential
desperate tone, “Hey, is anybody else up there?”

I think that is where we are in the world today.