Fear & Trust

Once upon a time people knew everyone they came into contact with on a regular basis. When a stranger came to town everyone knew about it and was full of curiosity. That stranger was alienated by a sense of otherness, and could cause problems, but they were so outnumbered by the locals that it was not likely.

As cities grew larger people grew into small groups of trust, and people who were up to no good had the ability to blend in and hide. Bandits could come into town, work their mischief and leave as quickly as they had arrived. On the other side, locals could scam people, but if they tried to scam other locals they would probably be caught, and so most choose to prey on people passing through town or skip the scam and go the sneakier burglary  /pickpocket route.

As transportation has become easier, strangers are more common, and are largely ignored. In large cities no-one even knows who is local and who is not. Small towns seem to exist largely due to the tourism industry, and so strangers are just a part of everyday life.

Most people have just accepted this status quo of not knowing who is nearby. We routinely lock our homes and automobiles, women carry pepper spray to protect themselves, and we choose to live under the watchful eye of video surveillance systems to keep others in check.

Why do we, especially Americans, do this? We have been told so many times that the world is out to get us that we believe it. On the news we hear stories about people who were trusted with something taking advantage of, or just generally not deserving that trust. We hear stories of the time that a child was left in the day care’s van after a field trip and left to die, we hear stories of people’s lives being torn apart as the result of a burglary, and we hear about people being massacred on a public street. These are terrible things, and we should be aware of them.

The problem is that these are the only stories we hear. We do not get to hear the stories about a nurse who spends her time off the clock reading to coma patients, we do not hear the stories about the homeless man who picks up garbage in the neighborhood for free every day, or the bank manager who knowingly sets his own wages less than his employees and sets raises based on personal situations rather than work ethic.

We have been conditioned to think the worst of everyone around us. Fear is used for advertising everything from mouth wash to legal policies. It is also perpetuated by laws that hold the homeowner responsible for injuries on their property, even when the person is not supposed to be there. Many tales have been told of robbers who successfully sued the homeowner for injury, even if the robber themselves broke the window that injured them. In some countries homeowners insurance covers break-ins even if the front door was unlocked.

So how can we trust anyone? The short answer is we can’t. But as social beings who need human interaction, we balance risk and reward. We go to school, work, shopping malls, etc even though we know about the massacres that have happened in these places. Our experience tells us that these are very rare, and we take that risk. In fact we scorn the people unwilling to take that risk as insane.

As we meet people and make new friends we do develop a level of trust, but deep down we know that there is no way to know what they do behind our backs. This is part of what causes so many paternity suits and why we have structures built up to keep businesses accountable.

Today a movement known as the ‘sharing economy’ has been making an appearance. This is still largely a fringe movement, but some things have become mainstream, like eBay. In the beginning this was a very risky way to purchase or sell things. The product might not be what was advertised, or even exist at all. The payment may never arrive, and the seller had no recourse. Policies have been enacted since then that hold both parties responsible and protect them from the possibility of things going wrong.

Craigslist is still very basic. When using craigslist the risk is still a part of the user experience and something to be wary of. The company has published tips on how each party can protect themselves, but does not vet participants in any way, no reviews, or much in the way of account creation. They have chosen to welcome newcomers as equals rather than to embrace those who are in it for the long haul.

Both of these examples are largely just a way to facilitate a single transaction. Craigslist encourages in person exchanges, while eBay requires no face-to-face interaction. Other examples of this ‘sharing economy’ are just coming into the market. These range from renting out rooms in your home to hooking up for the evening or going out to eat at an aspiring chef’s home. These examples have followed eBay’s example to assist the users in trusting the other party. This allows participants a way to engage in activities that would normally be considered very risky with less fear. That is good thing, but some have also been accused of deleting negative reviews in the hopes of creating a positive public perception. There is also the issue of being held accountable for those reviews and not wanting to criticize a nice person.

I see this movement as a good thing as a whole. We need to find a way to trust again. Even if that trust is supported by a business structure. Anyone who has walked down a public street in New York knows that of the thousands of people we may come into contact with on a given day, we avoid 99% of them. Even those we do interact with, like cashiers, we cannot fully trust.

This is also a great way for people with similar interests to meet up and make friends. Even something as mundane as ride-sharing can lead to a lifelong friendship, especially if both parties are put at ease enough to open up.

As someone who works in customer service, I also see the potential, if this type of economy really took off, of the weeding out of the bad apples leading to public businesses, who have no way to review guests, having to deal with only those left out of the sharing economy. This means that since businesses are the only ones held accountable , they are forced to stretch themselves more and more to accommodate, and keep happy, worse and worse customers.

But is that really a bad thing? I could replace my income by renting out rooms and giving people rides, so long as I was a trustworthy person. I could use those services from other trustworthy people, creating a parallel, better, more transparent, economy. This would encourage people to be trustworthy, and so able to use this economy where people share the things that they value, adding value to the economy as a whole, without the need for more products. The economy of those who are deemed unworthy would be unsustainable, and self-punish those forced to use it. I honestly believe that most people are good. Even more so when being bad is not rewarded.

By supporting people who share only what they personally have, rather than those who have more than they need, this also creates a more equitable system. It could return the balance of power to the individual instead of the corporation, but only if you trust the corporation to properly vet the individuals.

 

Strengths & Weaknesses

I was in the Gifted Program in school, I was lucky. My mother was a teacher and advocated for me. What this meant was that I was able to receive extra instruction. In elementary school this might mean an art, Spanish or guitar class during a time that my class was reviewing things I already knew. In third grade I spent one hour a week in a sixth grade class while they did science. I was also permitted to get ahead of the other kids in my class. I remember in first grade practicing counting money on my own (including dollars) while the class was still learning what each coin stood for. In fourth, fifth, and sixth grade I was in a pair of classes that worked together. One teacher taught language arts, while the other taught math. This allowed the students to divide up by ability level instead of grade level. But by sixth grade I had covered the main math information that they taught to the rest of the classes, so I spent the year doing more self-directed studies.

I am very thankful that I was able to do things like this. It allowed me to not be super bored in my classes and move at my own pace to a certain extent. However there are many problems with this system.

First and foremost: Not every child has access to it. This type of program is not set up in every state, those that do have it vary widely in implementation, even between districts. Within a district some schools support it, some do not, just like any special education program. The middle school that I went to did not have a gifted program, but I went there because that is where my mother taught. Because she knew the teachers, she was able to get me in the best classes for me, even though I had to go outside the established ‘team’ structure the school used at the time.

Even if a child is lucky enough to live in the right place to be able to take advantage of the system, their parents might not know to get them involved, and their teachers might not advise them to do so.

Secondly: Tailored education for all. I do not write this post to tell you how smart I am. I used to think that I was better than other, normal, people and I apologize for that.  I now know that everyone has strengths, and everyone has weaknesses. Because my family was full of teachers, and traditional education was such a focus of my upbringing, I thought that it was the most important thing, and that since I was good at that, I was some kind of super-genius.

I now do not support the use of the IQ test. I do not support a system that puts a single set of abilities over another. I believe that it is very damaging. The first thing you may think of when I say that is the people who are told that they are not smart by such a system, and that is a huge part of what I mean. But because that is so obvious, I am not going to go into it. I will tell you why it is not good for the above average kids as well.

As I grew up and I saw the strengths of my friends, I thought that because I was ‘Gifted’ that I should be better at everything than people who did not receive the same label. This is probably part of why I have dabbled in so many different things. It’s not just that I get bored with it, or that I like to be a Jack-of-all-Trades, but that I felt the requirement to beat others at their own strengths. Obviously this is an unrealistic expectation. Through a long and arduous journey I have discovered a long list of things that I am not very good at. And every time that I try these things again, I find the realization again. And every time I have to get over the disappointment again. I have to fail over and over again, and waste my time repeatedly just to re-learn the same lesson I did not learn when I was young. No-one is good at everything.

For a long time I assumed that the people that I made friends with were also in the Gifted Program, because they were smart. I would later find out that most were not. Some were actually in the lower levels of Special Education. Some had failed grades in school. This surprised me. Yes, if a child has dyslexia, that needs to be addressed, but they should also be addressing the things they are good at.

I believe everyone should be allowed to pursue the things that they excel at. This does not mean they should ignore the things they struggle in. Everyone needs to understand trying to learn something outside of their strength. I do believe that there are some skills that should be universal, but these are extremely basic compared to the requirements for school today. (I also understand that these concepts are outside the realm of possibility for some people.) People do not all think in the same way, and as a society we should use each-other’s strengths to grow, rather than requiring everyone to maintain roughly the same experience from which to grow.

Third: Labels. The Gifted Program is part of the Special Education program. As we all know, there is a stigma that goes along with being a Special Ed kid. (When I first got into the program, I did not know that and bragged about being special ed. I was very confused as to why people were not in awe of my awesomeness.)

Referring to my previous point, everyone should be able to get the tailored education that the gifted program is supposed to provide. There should not be a need to label someone as unusual in any way in order to give them what they need. We all are different, we cannot expect everyone to be good at the same things or to learn at the same pace.

In my time in school, the Gifted program offered me the opportunity to explore many things. But unfortunately I found that the extra classes that I was able to take did not make sense for me. These were the first classes I ever struggled in. Because school was so easy for me I expected everything to come just as easily. I know that these classes were supposed to challenge me. I understand that intention now, but at the time, it just seemed too hard. During my time as a substitute teacher, I saw students struggling with the core concepts of math so much they cried. This gave me an insight as to how much strength and weakness really affect our learning. (As well as the problems with expecting too much of students too soon.) I gave up many of these extra classes before trying very hard. This means that from my experience in school I have no way of knowing if I could have been good at them if I gave them a chance. Having tried again later more doggedly I have come to the conclusion that these were not my strengths. It seems odd that because I was good at one thing, I should be given the opportunity to pursue things that I was not good at, while other students were denied the opportunity to pursue something that they might have excelled at because they struggled with something completely unrelated.

CHAPTER 6 (WIP) – BUSINESS MINDSET

The next night Jessica dragged herself out of bed. The sky was black as she went to take a shower. This is not when human beings should be waking up. She hadn’t even fallen asleep until the sun went down, despite lying in bed for several hours utterly exhausted. Jessica had no interest in going to work, but the responsible adult still conscious somewhere in her mind knew that she must.

Jessica felt as if she was rushing, but every time she looked at a clock, she was falling further and further behind. She would be late. From experience, she knew that if she left late at all, the crowd leaving the gym at closing time would slow her down. It sounds silly, but that is small town living. When the gym is the town hangout, not even a bar to go afterward that’s where the crowds are.

By the time that Jessica arrived at work she was nearly 15 minutes late. She ran in the door apologizing to Suzie, who rushed to the door so fast she nearly forgot to clock out. For every time she was later than normal, she knew she was pushing her luck with the daycare.

Once Kenzie arrived, Jessica supervised as Kenzie ran the shift. Kenzie did everything by the book, direct from her notes, like a robot. She did not stop doing everything on her list, even when it was time to wait before starting the next thing. Jessica did not stop her from doing the paperwork early. Kenzie would find out why it was advantageous to wait eventually. People do come to check in at three in the morning, and how you tell the computer about them gets far more complicated once the nightly paperwork has been done. Jessica did stop Kenzie from setting up breakfast so that it would be steaming hot at 2am.

So instead of having fifteen minutes here, and thirty minutes there to keep the girls occupied all night, they had more than four hours straight of dead time. Kenzie stood by one of the computers for awhile before turning slowly to Jessica and asking, “Well, what do we do now?”

“That is part of why I break up the work on this shift. But to answer your question, stay near the desk and do what you want. You can turn on the TV, use your laptop, or the work computers if you feel like standing. You can read a book, do homework, or hell, you can paint a masterpiece.” Kenzie turned back to the computer and stared at it some more.

Jessica was standing at the other computer looking for inspiration how to get her life on track. She searched the country for jobs in her field, only to find that they required a related minor or even a masters degree.

About this time Kenzie spun around on her heel in a hurry and went to the back room. She came rushing back with her phone and hunched over the computer to get to work. Jessica leaned over to see what all the fuss was about. As it turned out Ms. Thomas had assigned Kenzie some online training videos she had nearly forgotten about.

Jessica turned back to her own workstation as she decided to switch from looking for engineering jobs to design, but, as she expected, had even worse luck, since it was only her minor.

From Kenzie’s computer poured the party line about upselling, customer relations, and how making money for the company keeps you employed.

Jessica huffed before she decided to start her own business where she could sell her own work, “Elegant Engineering” she would call it. Then she asked the world wide web about business startup loans. After filtering through several websites she realized that either she would have to fork over money upfront to get more money, which would still require convincing people who do not believe in Jacks-of-all-Trades to put faith in her. So it seemed she would have to build something like this from the ground up by herself. With her own money. And her own time. Both of those requirements were positively laughable at this point. She could not find time nor energy to hang out with friends, when would she be able to work, and where? She couldn’t even pay her bills, how on earth would she afford materials to work with, unless she took the ‘reclaimed treasures’ route, which did not sit quite right with the ‘engineered for comfort’ bit.

Jessica decided to contemplate material to re-use that would work well and be easy and cheap to find. In the meantime she took a break for lunch, or dinner, or midnight snack. Whatever you call eating in the middle of your day when that happens to be in the middle of the night. As she ate, she listened to Kenzie’s computer spewing out this years buzzwords, “Motivation!”, “Upsell!”, “Goaldigger”, “It factor”, “Growth”, “Market”, “Passionate”, “Driven”.

 

Chapter 7 – Sell Sell Sell

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CHAPTER 2 (WIP) – DREAMS OF FREEDOM

After work, Jessica went home as quickly as she could. Today she was especially thankful that she got off work before rush hour started. For a small town, rush hour was awful. Jessica was so tired that it was difficult to keep her eyes focused on the road. Finally she pulled up at her apartment and parked. She heaved a sigh of relief, and relaxed into the seat. It took nearly five minutes before she could get up the initiative to get out of the car and walk the 20 paces to her front door. Inside, her purse and keys fell to the floor, waking her roommate who slept on the couch. She felt a little bad, but she knew that Ashley was supposed to already be awake and getting ready for work. Jessica went to her room without a word, collapsed onto the bed, and found that her eyelids would not close. The sun was already streaming in around the blackout curtains, and Jessica knew that the longer she was awake, the harder it would be to fall asleep. She lay tossing and turning, for what felt like forever, but she must have fallen asleep at some point.

That morning Jessica dreamed of a place…no, really it was just an empty void. In this place she could do what she wanted and did not have to work for others. Jessica found herself at a loss. Without others telling her what needed to get done, or having chores of her own to do, she wanted to do something, but could not figure out just what. She had no direction. As thoughts popped into her head, things would appear.
She thought of watching television or surfing the internet, but as soon as she saw the screen popped into existence in front of her, that just didn’t sound appealing. So Jessica tried playing a game, but she was so uninterested she wasn’t even following along. After sitting to think for awhile, she realized that her chair was uncomfortable and started to think of ways to improve it.

After putting a great deal of thought into the dimensions of the cushion and the perfect ratio of cushion to stability, she began thinking about to how that new perfectly engineered chair could be made aesthetically pleasing as well. As soon as she had this thought she gave herself a good faceplam. People had said that her engineering degree was at odds with her interior design minor. After years of defending this choice as “diverse” and “well rounded” she had finally found a way to use them together.

Usually people are an expert in either how to make something either look good or be functional. Then they have to work with a different expert to bring in the other half. This means that one or the other is an afterthought, but she had it all!

Jessica awoke to find her eureka moment crushed by the realization that this would still not get her a career. Anyone looking to hire wanted an expert, not a jack-of-all-trades. She sighed again and wished that her bed could just swallow her up so she could escape the real world.

Chapter 3 – Life Stands Still

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