This post was written by Nicholas Ng
What is it that compels us to trust one person but not another? Is the reason only skin-deep? In a cosmopolitan and multicultural city like KL, it’s a question worth asking. Local writer Nicholas Ng digs a little deeper.
People come and go all the time, even more so in metropolitan cities. Kuala Lumpur is no exception to this. We inadvertently form trust circles because of this. Some people we trust more, some we trust less. My question posed this time is… what determines this trust? Are we likelier to trust our own kind, or is it all only skin deep?
Some people come into our lives more easily than others, and this is ever more true when we are in a desperate need for friends. This generally happens when you move to a new environment and just want to fit in, whether it’s a new school, a new workplace, or even a new country. We generally tend to veer to our own kin, those whom we tend to identify with. The English will gather together, the French will do the same, and so will the Spanish. It happens more commonly than you think.
So what does it normally take for a person to form a bond of trust? Some say it’s because we gather close to people who speak the same language and therefore it is easier to have in-depth conversations where nothing gets lost in translation. That might be true for some, for example, the French or Spanish. But how about the Brits, the Americans, and the Australians? They all speak the same language but don’t necessarily gather. I speak English as a first language, but I don’t necessarily bond with and trust English speakers the most. Sometimes, I find trust to be an issue quite detached from language itself and is really down to a person-to-person experience.
Perhaps our trust issues are tied to our racial history. Being in a part of the world where colonisation happened, it is almost an innate quality where we tend to feel that we are able to trust Westerners as they would seem to know better, which some did in the past, or at least the ones who ventured to the east with their technology of that time did. This is a generalisation though, as historically, there has been a divergence in the Asian mentality when it comes to Westerners, some trusting them easily, and some being xenophobic. The good thing is that society is ever changing, and that living in a metropolitan world forces us to abandon these beliefs. You tend to see this in the younger generation who have less racial bias, especially those raised in big cities.
It could also be the skin colour debate. Some people tend to feel more secure with those who look like them. This however, is only an initial perception. In fact, some would go as far as to not trust their own kin because they feel they know them too well. This is especially true with the Chinese when it comes to business dealings. The Chinese rely on guanxi, a term that can be loosely defined as “public relations” where you have to honour someone and respect them to gain their trust. Some Chinese prefer not to deal with their own kin if they have poor guanxi with them, and would rather deal with people who are not of the same race who seem more trustworthy. Honour and trust are really two very different things, and yet they tend to go together in Asian culture.
It would seem that your religion can affect your perception of trust. Some find it easier to trust people of the same religion as themselves because that person could have a similar moral compass and be seen as being more trustworthy. Some might go as far as to think that someone whose belief system is a complete opposite from theirs is less trustworthy because he does not believe in the “right” religion, therefore having polar opposite morality to theirs. It’s such a shame that this is a reality of the world. We don’t always admit our prejudices but we really ought to own up to them.
I am inclined to think that trust is something that comes about after a prolonged exposure to someone. It is not formed overnight. Yes, I tend to veer to people who speak the same and probably have a similar culture to mine at first, but after a while, I tend to trust people who I feel have a similar mind set and view on life as mine above everything else. It’s not necessarily culture, religion or language based, but somehow it does stem from that. I find it impossible to trust someone who doesn’t understand me, not because they aren’t trustworthy, but because I can’t communicate well and form a deeper level of trust. My circle of friends is as diverse as a Benneton ad. We all joke about each other’s races, but we know deep down, our differences are only skin deep. At the end of the day, do we all not bleed red?
Source: The Expat August 2013
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