I was raised in the northern culture of the USA and Canada where I was taught to trust people until they give you reason not to trust them. In my short life, while living in the USA and Canada, this cultural guidance seemed to work fairly well. I have been fooled a few times, but not so many times as to discard the first trust attitude entirely or become cynical.
Since my arrival in Guatemala, almost five years ago, I have come to question the cross cultural application of trusting first until given reason not to. I was given some cultural advice by an American businessman who has lived in Guatemala for almost 40 years. He counselled that extending unconditional trust first in Guatemala would not bring a good result. Initially, I intellectually understood this principle, but hadn’t had any gut wrenching experiences to change my attitude – yet.
Over the course of the years here, I have observed that embedded in the culture here, is an ease and liberal use of lying. Although I admit this may be a cultural generalization and perhaps is isolated to our geographical area. Unfortunately, after asking more than a few Guatemalans about this disturbing cultural phenomenon, they confirmed my observation. It can be a tool in many people’s back pocket, ready to use if necessary.
After a few minor incidents of catching people in “white lies”, we had some major “events” of serious behaviours being denied despite being cornered with convincing evidence to the contrary. These serious breaches of trust were not by strangers, but by people who had received our trust over years. Subsequently, upon these revelations of the breach of trust it was discovered that this had happened before and had not been detected. Ouch.
Not to take such a betrayal of trust personally is difficult. It was very disturbing to see an investment of personal confidence and trust discarded by covert reckless behaviours. Even more disturbing was to see the denial of those disturbing behaviours by escalating lies. I must add, in the end each person in each separate “event” did come clean.
Upon reflection of the various “events” over the past years, I have come to see my part in it. “Expectation is a painful death” said Rumi, and how true that is. To expect someone to always be truthful in a culture that sees lying a survival tool, is naïve and a setup for that painful disappointment. To decondition myself from trusting until given a reason not to was not easy and it is still in process. I realized how deeply my trusting conditioning is and I realized how equally deep the conditioning in this culture is as well. I cannot change this culture, so I must change myself and my expectations.
He that deceives me once; shame fall him; if he deceives me twice, shame fall me. -James Kelly, Scottish Proverbs (1720).