There is nothing keeping me from wrecking havoc at my workplace, the mall or the supermarket. Being small, young and female gives me plenty opportunity to give people a real surprise. Additionally, the logistics can be taken care of (Columbine, anyone?). If I would want to, I could easily become a very successful mass-murderer. I don’t want to. The thought alone nauseates me. But if you look solely at opportunity: I could. I look harmless, no-one would ever suspect.
Since Darling died on me, I look different at people. That cute girl, the nice grandmother, the kind gentleman, it’s just appearance. We build an image of ourselves and we broadcast it day in, day out. Sometimes, when people are allowed close enough, they can see the person behind the masks. Darling was a bohemian. He enjoyed life to the fullest. Being with him made even the dullest of tasks so much better. And yet, he was suicidal. To the point that he actually killed himself. I knew. But knowing and experiencing are two different things. So I look different at people now. And I start pondering trust.
Trust is an odd thing. It is so very fragile. And yet we build entire societies on it.
What are the ground rules for trust? We trust that another human being will not harm us. But is this true? And what holds us back in the first place? Using myself as the sole test subject, I came up with two reasons: emotions and empathy. Whenever we hurt someone, we can relate to the emotions that person is experiencing: fear, anger, sadness. Pain. Empathy lets it resonate within us. Hurting someone else, hurts you. I know that when another person is staring down the barrel of my (fictional) gun, his or hers life must be flashing by. Pulling that trigger would not only kill that person, but alter the course of life of all the bystanders and the loved ones of the person I’m shooting. We all feel the echo of anticipating fear and grief. I believe it must be this that withholds us from doing such things.
Yet, this interplay between emotions and empathy has its limitations. Whenever an incentive is high enough, emotions and empathy are overruled. This could be done by stripping the opponent of its humanity, by a sense of justice, or as an act of survival. And sometimes, because we are blind to the consequences of what we are doing.
We grow up learning that things are not always going as you would wish. We fall, we hurt ourselves, we learn defence mechanisms and build walls to keep the bad people out. We protect ourselves by building and broadcasting a certain image in order to persuade others not to harm us. We monitor our environment and the people in it. Seeking the tell-tales of potential danger. Based on the evaluation of the others appearance, analysation of its behaviour and deduction of its ulterior motives, we measure out an amount of trust. We need to. In social interactions it is of paramount importance to trust. Distrust paralyses. Trust oils the societal wheels. However, by categorising anyone to a certain amount of trust, you feel safe and in control of the situation. It is of course an illusion, albeit a necessary one.
And than something happens to the safe world you envisioned yourself in. You get robbed, your home is broken into, you go to war, you are raped, your loved one kills himself. There is nothing in life to prepare against this kind of betrayal. We need to live the illusion that it won’t happen to us. But when it does, what then?