I am thoroughly enjoying the podcasts of Alan Watts’ talks at the archive of alanwatts.com. Today, on the bus into Vancouver I listened to part four of “Seeing Through the Net” in which Watts talks about trust and control.
The essence of his argument is this: in Judeo-Christian societies, humans are said to be born with sin, and are therefore inherently untrustworthy; to be precise, humans are unable to rely on their own judgements to make good decisions and decisions for the good. And so the way to deal with a population of largely untrustworthy neer-do-wells is to create an eleborate system of controls in society to ensure that behaviour is managed and the chaos doesn’t get too overwhelming.
In contrast, Watts says, many societies, including traditional Chinese society and, I would argue, many First Nations societies see humans as essentially good and capable and trustworthy. If you can view humans like this, then you can see a room full of people as a roome full of potential, and an organization of people is one essentially capable of doing good in the world. All you have to do is trust these inherent capacities.
This control issue crops up everywhere. If humans are essentially untrustworthy then we need laws to keep the peace and agendas to keep them on topic. We need rules, regulations, measurements, standards and assessment and evaluation criteria that judge the largely untrustworthy human against the perfect ideal, in order to see how badly they failed to achieve perfection.
The kicker for me in listening to Watts comes when he says that the problem with this logic is that if you believe that humans are inherently untrustworthy, then you cannot possibly trust your own thoughts about that. It takes you into a strange loop that is inescapable. On the other hand if you begin with the assumption that humans are good and can be trusted, you can trust that assumption and engage others in your work and adventures.
It seems to me that this is a critical part of the infrastructure that underlies how we choose to be together in organizations and communities. If we can trust each other, then we can trust that any sticky place we come too will be resolved by the people we are with. If we can’t trust each other, then we can’t trust ourselves first of all, and the world becomes a sad place full of controls and statistics and punishment and devoid of the life and creativity and passion that we see in places where people are truly alive.
I try to work with people who believe in people and who trust them to find their way. It just sank in today a little deeper how profoundly this either/or really is. So here is a renewed call for a practice of deep and radical trust in the person sitting next to us. To the extent that we can trust them and validate their agency and potential contribution as a human being, we can do the same for ourselves. And vice versa.
[tags] alanwatts, trust, control[/tags]