Last Wednesday, I started with World Values Survey findings across the years showing how few Filipinos agree with the statement “Most people can be trusted.” In the latest one conducted in 2014, only 2.8 percent of Filipinos agreed with that statement.
I pointed out the difference between distrust, which is based on previous experiences, and mistrust, which is more emotional, lacking empirical evidence but remaining powerful because it might invoke traditional mindsets. Often enough, the mistrust grows out of an entire culture’s experiences and is passed on from one generation to another. Here, we have outright biases and prejudices, such as don’t trust the Muslims, don’t trust the Chinese.
Often enough, too, distrust and mistrust work together, which I find frequently in gender situations—women, especially, saying they’ve been burned in the past (distrust), and even with a new guy who looks “decent,” you can’t be too sure because, well, he looks too decent (mistrust). Sigh.
Look at how the two interact. We don’t trust people because we’ve been burned, so we narrow down our circles of trust, down to relatives and close friends, only to learn the wisdom of the Filipino expression: “Paano na kung nasa loob ng bahay ang magnanakaw” (what if the thief is already inside the house), where the “person of interest” (the politically correct term used now instead of “suspect”) can be household help or, yikes, assorted relatives, including, double and triple yikes, your own spouse or child.
Mistrust creates all kinds of little paranoias. My mother always put it this way: Don’t tempt people. Her solution was to put everything under lock and key. Which created a major crisis when she developed dementia and I had to help her remember which keys were for which drawer. My father had a similar problem; there are still two safes in their house I can’t open, now that he’s gone to that safest place in the sky.
At its most extreme, the belief in kulam (sorcery) is an outcome of mistrust. You get sick and doctors can’t explain what’s going on. Aha, it must be that business partner or that neighbor who keeps looking at our house with such envy.
What to do then? Let’s watch our own language and the way we use “all” and “kasi.” One reason I chose my column name “Pinoy Kasi” when I started in 1997 is to show how that expression sometimes becomes stereotyping, presuming ALL Filipinos behave a certain way. That can fuel mistrust.
Think, too, of the most basic of relationships: spouses or partners, parents and children. Sadly, our relationships quickly deteriorate to that of a suspicious person and persons of interest. It doesn’t help when our default attitude is: “I know you’re going to do something bad so…” Shouldn’t it be: “I trust you to do good, so go and have a great time. Don’t disappoint me.”
We need more studies on who we do trust. I recall a survey some years ago showing we trusted the Church (Catholic) more than politicians. Schools were not trusted, more because public schoolteachers are noted for collecting all kinds of fees. Scientists fare poorly compared with the religious.
I often wonder if our lack of appreciation of a democracy comes about because we don’t trust anyone, and therefore focus on trusting some strongman or strongwoman to rule with an iron fist. In the end, we might feel “safer,” but are we going to be more trustful of our politicians, the military and the police, our neighbors… or the magnanakaw sa bahay (the thief or thieves in the house)?
The war on drugs also propagates stereotypes of who the “adik” or pusher is: the poor, the emaciated, the, well, mukhang kriminal, someone who looks criminal, whatever that might be.
It’s good not to be too trusting. But to live day to day mistrustful and distrustful—it takes a toll on our health, and that of the nation.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.