Today, I’m musing about trust. I started writing this column last week. When I pondered trust, I opened a floodgate of so many thoughts and emotions that I chose to put away this musing for a bit. My goal was to make two points; 1) Any and all interactions we have with animals involve trust and 2) Animals are good trustworthy medicine. Trust building is necessary when coaxing a scared cat out from under a bed, leading a horse onto a horse trailer, in successful hunting and fishing, wildlife photography, and in establishing a backyard birdfeeder. That animals are trustworthy was confirmed for me by the authentic belly laughs I heard when I have repeated lately (too many times) Harry Truman’s advice regarding finding a friend one can trust in politics or in Washington: “Get a dog”.
I think it was watching a video I checked out of the New London Public Library, a video titled “The Ascent of Money”, that catalyzed a flood of thoughts and my uneasy feelings. The video is based on a book by a Harvard professor named Niall Ferguson. What I learned I suspect many of you know. Money is a unit of trust. The word-root for credit is ”cred” which means believe, as in the words credo, creed, and credulity. While I knew a little about past irrational booms and busts and the relationship between economics and the beliefs of people, Ferguson’s skill at illustrating how finances have played a central part in human history left me amazed.
Next, I thought of sports, of the years I spent coaching girls’ soccer, of how trust is necessary for teamwork. I remembered the pride I felt when I watched the Packers lose to the Cardinals during the playoffs two years ago. While the Cardinals won, they won in spite of infighting, in spite of players yelling at each other. The Packers exhibited class and dignity in defeat. There was no whining or excuse making. Most importantly, they revealed the respect they had for and the trust they had in their fellow players, coaches, and staff. The Packer’s Superbowl victory, while unlikely and fairytale-like—for example, key leadership players getting injured in the final game—did not surprise me. The teamwork (and dignity) they showed while losing two years ago was what won the Superbowl this year and—I predict—bodes well for years to come. The biggest challenge I had in each of my 15 years of coaching girls’ soccer was getting players to trust and support their teammates. “If you leave your position to do someone else’s job” I’d hear myself asking time and again “who is going be able to cover your position, to do your job”? The teams I coached that respected and trusted their fellow players did extraordinarily well.
What followed were thoughts of what I’ve seen in the world of human relationships. Many of us “animal people” are far more comfortable with and trusting of animals than we are with people. A question posed to me during my interview for veterinary school was “Pete, do you realize that, as a veterinarian, you are going to have to work with people?” Whether it is a marriage, a family, or a community, trust is the glue for the “tie that binds.” I saw this stated in another way on the bottom of a Christmas card we received in 2011 from a friend of ours “Trust is the truest form of love.”
Some of the exciting research, described by Dr. Temple Grandin in her book, Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals, shows that fear arises when animals are unhappy or poorly cared for. When animals are scared, they become cautious, they are less inquisitive and less playful. When trust breaks down in a society, people become afraid. This can lead to silence and to a decrease in creativity and risk taking.
So how do I put away this musing? Two truths are my guiding stars; 1) As soon as life is conceived—whether it be a mosquito, a wet foal, or you, or me, or our children—there is danger and 2) Human, animal, and ecosystem health are united and are inseparable. In my opinion, the time is now for each of us to embrace the truth of this interdependent vulnerability, to have faith in the magical strength of teamwork (as we recently witnessed in the Packers) and to commit ourselves to doing what we can to build strong and trusting marriages, families, and Waupaca County East community.
Published in the Waupaca County Post East newspaper, 8/18/11.
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