Saturday, December 24, 2011

1st Annual Holiday Rant 2011: Societal Trust

Episode One: Robinson's Pioneer

After spending a couple of days in Manila to meet some friends, I asked my sister to pick me up and take me to our parents’ place in Bulacan. I would have gone on my own, if I could, but I had this sealed big box of presents with me from Hong Kong. I already anticipated that I might be hassled by the guards when I enter the mall with all my stuff, but I really hoped that I would be able to charm them or at least reason with them.

As it turned out, I did not have any problem going inside the mall: I was able to reassure the lady guard that I was just carrying a box of gift toys and sweet talk her out of asking me to open it. Unfortunately, this same strategy turned out to be ineffective with another guard that I encountered a bit later. As I was waiting for my sister near the exit to the parking lot, another lady guard approached me out of nowhere and asked what I had in the box. In my sweetest tone, I answered “toys for my nephews and nieces” and explained that I already talked to the other guard about it. Still, she insisted that I open the box, and since by then I was already too tired to argue, I promptly ripped the box open (it was sealed, and I did not have a knife or any sharp object with which to open the box properly). When she saw the various boxes of toys inside the bigger box, she walked away with nary a word (I can only imagine how it would have turned out had I wrapped my gifts before flying to Manila).

Episode Two: SM Marilao

The other day I went out for last-minute gifts. I quickly bought a couple of Transformers movie toys from Toy Kingdom, then headed to the supermarket for a few supplies. As I was about to enter, the guard nonchalantly stopped me and asked me to “check in” my Toy Kingdom plastic bag. I was really surprised that she asked me to do this—the bag was small as it only contained two card-backed Transformers toys—so I asked her why I had to do this. She simply said that my toys might get mixed with my other purchases—or something to that effect—but instead of saying “so what?” as I probably should have, I just walked away.

So what?

I was not really angry at these guards: while some guards could really turn up the power trip at times, ultimately they’re still just doing what they were told by higher ups. Well, maybe I was a bit pissed, not at them, but at these attempts to improve security and address threats to peace and order, because by now we all know that these efforts don’t work and just waste people’s time and resources; these policies were presumably designed for our benefit and interest as ordinary Filipinos but in truth are implemented at our expense. But mostly I was saddened because I realize that these practices just end up sowing a deeper, darker cloud of mistrust in Filipino society.


According to Francis Fukuyama,

“A nation's well being, as well as its ability to compete, is conditioned by a single, pervasive cultural characteristic: the level of trust inherent in society.”

The successful consummation of every economic transaction is heavily dependent on how each party trusts the other to behave as expected since contracts can only address so many details and possibilities. Trust can also provide significant additional value to businesses by minimizing transaction and monitoring costs. So maybe it’s no coincidence that some of the most developed countries in the world trust their citizens enough so that individuals are not asked to open sealed boxes inside malls or open bags when entering train stations.

Some of you may point out that it’s a small price to pay for security—or at least, a sense of security—and I will have agreed if indeed these policies make us feel safer, but they don’t. Some of you may say that I’m just being petty and making too much fuss about nothing and I will have agreed were the amount of economic resources wasted on such practices trivial, but it isn’t.

I’m not trying to be a defeatist or an alarmist, because really, if this season means anything to me, it’s that things can always get better and that sometimes they do. Maybe what this post is really about, apart from being a venue for my rant, is how to convince ourselves to try to trust each other more, because really, no matter how bright and honest our president and all our leaders are, as long as we don’t trust the ordinary Filipino enough to just leave him be, let him do his business, and not think he will shoplift or set a bomb at the next opportunity, our nation will find it very hard to become great again.

Of course this is only possible if we become more trustworthy ourselves. Trust and trustworthiness is a chicken and egg thing, although knowing which one comes first matters less than actually getting the cycle started.

And it starts with me, of course.

Happy holidays, everyone. :)

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