Friday, 15 February 2013

Trust: key ingredient of the good life

We all need to be able to depend on the kindness of strangers, don’t we?

That in turn means that strangers have to be able to trust each other.

Take the time when we’d run out of fuel on a country road at night, and two fairly rough looking lads pulled up in a battered car behind us. You can imagine that we felt a momentary frisson of apprehension. But in fact they drove me to a filling station several miles away, waited while I bought and filled a jerry can, and then ran me back. They would take nothing in return for their kindness.

Both sides had decided that the others were just what they seemed: a couple who’d stupidly failed to fill up with fuel on time, and young people who genuinely wanted to help and were prepared to inconvenience themselves to do it.

It’s far better to live in a society where that kind of trust and mutual assistance are possible than in one where they aren’t.

Sadly, however, there are those who see an inclination to trust others as merely evidence of imbecility. They feel it provides them with the opportunity to help their fellows only by relieving them of the burden of carrying too much money, a task they are prepared to make the sacrifice of undertaking on their behalf, buoyed by the belief they can find a much more valuable use for it.

The other day I was driving past a car broken down on the verge of a motorway slip road. It had its hazard warning lights flashing, but in any case the seriousness of the situation was made powerfully clear by the obvious distress of the driver, who’d stepped out into the road to wave me down.

I pulled over and let down the nearside window.

‘I’m really sorry...,’ he panted as he came alongside, ‘... it’s terrible... I have two kids in the car... I’m desperate...’

There was no way I could leave him in that state, I thought, and then he added, ‘I’ve lost my money, my credit cards, everything,’ and suddenly I discovered that, actually, leaving him in that state was going to be exceedingly easy.

‘No, thanks very much, I know this racket,’ I replied, closed the window and drove away.

But then I felt my irritation begin to mount. I’d been in that position once before. A young man, son of neighbours two doors away, had turned up at my door, desperate to get across to the other side of the county, but locked out of his house and unable to get at any money.

If you believe in helping others, then helping your neighbours has be near the top of your list. I provided this young man with a little cash. But then, of course, he turned out not to have anything to do with my neighbours and, strange though it may seem, despite his earnest promises, he didn’t show up that evening to repay me.

Got to try to trust people.
But sometimes – it's wise to be a little careful
I’d long since written off the loss as the price of a useful lesson. Clearly, it had paid off with the broken-down car on the slip road. But I was still irritated as I drove away, and becoming more so.

‘Why should he get away with it?’ I thought. 

Suddenly, I headed for the next exit and drove smartly round the roundabout to head back to where I’d met him. As I got back to the spot, I could see the car still there, half on the slip road, its hazard lights still disconsolately blinking.

But as I reached the exit which would get me close enough to note his number down with a view to reporting it – why the car just pulled away and out onto the main road, down which it sped as smoothly as you could wish, clearly no longer suffering from any kind of mechanical failure at all.

We owe it to our fellow man to help when we can. Wasn’t it wonderful that I could be of such assistance to this individual and at so little cost to myself? 

So satisfactory that all it took was for me to drive back towards him for his breakdown to be miraculously repaired.


Awoogamuffin said...

Wow, good call! But what if you had been wrong?

David Beeson said...

Ah, a counter-factual. Doesn't matter, does it? Because I wasn't...