Observation on Trust in Society

Posted Dec 10, 2006
Last Updated Nov 11, 2011

A few months ago I was in a club to take photos of a concert for some friends of mine. As soon as I entered the Alrosa Villa, I was frisked by security and my camera bag was checked. Immediately I chastised myself internally for forgetting to leave my pocket knife at home or in the van—two years ago Dimebag Darrel and others were murdered in this very club by a weapon-toting maniac.

Luckily, the security gal did not bother me over the pocket knife. Still… the realization that I was bringing a knife into a public place moved my mind a little over the whole topic of weapons.

I personally have carried a pocket knife almost my entire life. My Dad gave me my first knife when I was in the second grade. I carried it in my pocket at all times—yes, even to school. In fact, over the following decade I was in school, I had a knife on me almost every single day. I never stabbed anyone; most people never knew I had it on me, although a few teachers knew here and there if I pulled it out to offer it to the teacher for small tasks that might require it. Not once did a teacher freak out and send me to the office.

So why is it that I am so leery about weapons in the hands of kids? Am I a hypocrite to be happy about the increased security in the schools?

Not all that long ago I was disturbed with schools turning into "prison-like” environments with metal detectors, security cameras and stricter lockdown. But now I am hardening up… and I am all about suspending kids that come to school with the same pocket knife that I carried for years. I don’t want schools to become factories or prisons… but the safety of good kids is, unfortunately, in peril.

The problem is cultural. And perhaps the disparity between my generation and the current school-age generation is not as different as the disparity between my own outlook as a kid as other kids. Certainly, in all my life, I have seen the pocket knife as a tool and not as a weapon—in the same manner that a forks or pencils are tools. I am sure both pencils and forks could become lethal weapons if misused.

My hesitation about granting freedom to kids to carry tools like pocket knives is an issue of trust. I don’t feel that youngsters today have been raised to be responsible enough to trust—a problem that falls heavily on the shoulders of American parents and educational institutional policies that do not enforce accountability. Our culture has stopped raising kids; instead, America lets MTV, MySpace and Ritalin churn out the next generation.

What’s sad is that these very issues have spilled out into the adult public arena. Restricting freedoms from students is indicative of the restrictions that are coming into the adult realm—such as the parallel issue of gun control. In a perfect world… we should all be able to carry firearms because we would all use them responsibly. Unfortunately, the irresponsibility of those (criminals) who carry them makes it problematic for the rest of us—because we are forced to withhold trust of others (who might be criminals) and their intentions… we seek ways to restrict their access to weapons.

But the cure for our problems in adolescent and adult worlds in regards to this issue is not going to be found in restrictive laws and regulations—although those restrictions may sometimes be necessary as short-term band-aides. In the long-term, all answers lie in educating ourselves and our children to be responsible for our actions. To teach ourselves and our kids that our freedoms depend on the freedoms of others—and that our freedom depends on our ability to respect the limitations we must obey even in a free world. That we do such a poor job at this is why we cannot trust the neighbors we have in our own society.

Nowadays public safety is being threatened by terrorism. And the insertion of an American armed force in the Middle East casts light on another side of this debate. Survival instincts teach us that we must conquer any enemy before they destroy us. Currently, America’s enemy is radical Islam. As a society, we are suspicious of Islam; we want to take power from Islamic nations that we do not trust—because we do not want harm to befall our nation. We want to restrict nuclear power in enemies without considering the fact that we have it (in a similar fashion that I had no problem carrying a pocket knife as a kid but feel no hypocrisy in saying that kids should not carry them to school).

What this points to is a fundamental truth about existence: we inherently trust ourselves, but not others.

The instinct to trust self and distrust others makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. But it can create situations that do not have good long-term effects in modern global civilization. Sure, it may have been prudent and or necessary for America to go into the Middle East to stomp out the opponent(s). However… it takes much more energy and resources to fight than to live in peace. At some point, the conflict simply has to cease.

The only way the world will heal and get better is for the nations to educate themselves to be responsible—in the same manner it is a parent’s responsibility to learn and teach the same lesson. America can only get past its dilemma if it learns that there are consequences for its actions, and trusting other nations is as important as getting them to trust us; the Middle East will only get out of the Middle Ages if it learns to respect the West. There is no way to enforce this on the world just like there is no way for a single parent or teacher to enforce good character on an entire neighborhood; but the only way to start a movement is at home (both personally and culturally). If we expect others to be trustworthy, we have to lift ourselves up to be trustworthy in the eyes of those we must live around—and through our actions show them that they should follow suit. It may not always work—but it should always be the core guiding principle when trying to set cultural standards at home and abroad.


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Tabi P.

Jun 9, 2009

I disagree. In some respects, especially with, "in a perfect world we would all be able to carry fire arms." What exactly would you be useing a fire arm for that would make its use responsible? Why would someone carry a shotgun or rifle consistently, for use responsibly? The responsible thing for that is to not carry it, to only take it hunting. Also, if everyone were carrying guns tension would be higher, accidents more frequent. In a perfect world there would be no need for firearms. In a perfect world there would be no need for articles like this...

Shawn Olson

Jun 9, 2009

I am sorry that the article bothered you. At the same time I would hope that you can garner a deeper layer of meaning. I am not saying that we would all be carrying weapons in a perfect world... I said we would be able to carry them without concern because of higher cultural standards. I certainly doubt that civilization will tend towards more weapon-carrying habits; on the contrary, I expect we will move away from violence.

The truth is that the perfect world will never exist because of our often conflicting emotions and instincts. But even though there is no perfect world... we can always learn from our world and try to mold it into something we think is better.

And.. you are correct in saying that there would never be a need for articles like this in a perfect world. And I am sure that there would be very little need for any kind of writing in a perfect world... since we would all already know everything.

marcia siegel

Jan 23, 2008

i agree that parents are not parenting. i think this is a core issue to the abhorrent actions that children as well as adults engage in. i grew up in the 50's and 60's. warnings such as wearing a bicycle helmet did not exist when i was a child. i do not recall severe head injuries due to bicycle accidents. likewise violence in elementary school was rare. of course no one thought of bringing a gun to school. we were not an angry, aggressive generation. cruelty and thoughtfulness were not acceptable social norms. unfortunately now society accepts values and behaviors that would have been shunned when i grew up. i believe that parents must help their children put the world they live in, in a perspective. yes bad things exist and no you do not have to be a part of them. there is too much acceptance of negative behavior as good. how did society change to worship "the ends justifies the means?" when did the means become unimportant?
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