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© 2018, Tony Harwood-Jones
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A Matter of Trust

Not long ago,  I was sitting in a chair, about ten kilometres above the ground.  There was nothing to hold me there, high above the clouds, except the wind.  And a collection of bolts and rivets and wires and aviation fuel flawlessly propelling me through the air from Winnipeg to Ottawa.

I felt perfectly safe.

Which was illogical, right?  At any moment, a bolt could give way and the wings fall off, or the fuel line could burst, or the pilot's instruments could lie to him such that he points the aircraft directly at the ground. 1 

The fact of the matter is that I felt safe because thousands of people, whom I have never met, have reliably done their jobs.  Oil derrick workers, refinery workers, aircraft designers and draughtsmen, plastic and aluminum fabricators.... the list is endless.  And these are only the people whose efforts lead to an aircraft that doesn't fall apart in mid-air.  Then there are the air traffic controllers, pilots of other aircraft, radar stations, and – not least – the flight crew, whose skill and knowledge makes this particular plane fly safely to its destination.

My simple act of sitting calmly in a chair, sipping a coffee, is a spontaneous act of trust.  Trust in all of those unknown people.  Trust that they have worked together reliably and well.

It took being in an aircraft for me to become so acutely aware of how much we must trust others, day after day, simply to go through the ordinary things of life!  Are the lights on at home?  How many people make that happen?  How many people are behind the fact that my home is warm?  A phone rings, a text or email comes in?  How many people make that happen?  Buy a loaf of bread?  Farmers, combine manufacturers, truck drivers, grocery chain owners, bankers, custodians, check-out clerks, and more – all had to work together to bring that simple food item to my table!

Trust.  Taking for granted that thousands of human beings have made our daily lives possible.

Now, I recognize that there are some professions, such as police, prosecutors, journalists, and scientists, for whom being trusting is not an asset.  They are paid to be suspicious, and rightly so, for some people are not to be trusted, and some things are not what they appear to be.  But the fact that a police cruiser starts in the morning, with a radio and onboard computer doing what they’re supposed to do; the fact that the lawyer’s trial transcript, and list of legal precedents are properly prepared; that the journalist’s recording device and laptop are working reliably; and that the scientist’s microscope and autoclave work as specified – means that thousands of unknown and unnamed people have been, and are being trustworthy, every day.

When trust breaks down completely, you get chaos.  Think: Syria – a once-normal country with working infrastructure, that is now a heap of rubble.  And its people: helpless, homeless, on the run, or dead.

So, I have two takeaways from that moment of awareness in the air.
  1. How much we rely on others, all day, every day.  If you say you don't need others, just go and live in the forest, alone, without clothes, and kill your dinner with your bare hands.  As for a trip to the doctor, or an aspirin for that headache?  Forget it.
  2. How I absolutely must make sure that others can rely on me.  Keeping promises, being truthful, obeying the law, paying taxes, helping the unfortunate, and casting my vote.
I am, you are, we are part of something that is bigger than ourselves.

Tony Harwood-Jones
October 11, 2018

NOTE: This essay was originally written for the “Keeping In Touch” magazine of the RCMP Veterans’ Association of Manitoba.  It has been re-written for a more general audience.

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1  This essay was written not long before two airliners – both of them Boeing 737 Max8s – on two separate occasions fell out of the sky.  Such events, however, do not change the central message of this article.  In fact, they reinforce it.
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