Why Don’t We Take it on Trust?
Gone are the days when we took it on trust that people would work things out for themselves. Now there is a rule and a warning for everything.
Take safety for instance. We used to casually trust people would have to watch out for themselves. So people were expected to work with machines without protection. Roads lacked railings beside steep cliffs. And if the odd sailor fell overboard, well… The thinking was that they should have been more careful. Clearly this kind of trusting was really carelessness in disguise.
But today, we have gone the other way. Nobody is trusted to exercise common sense anymore. For instance:
- Disposable coffee cups have a warning on the top saying “Warning! Contents may be hot!”
- Vehicle manuals advise you not to drive without watching the road.
- Workplaces are expected to draft encyclopaedic folders on health and safety, which they often end up shoving on a back shelf because they’re too unrealistic to bother with.
- Toys for toddlers often come with warnings that they are not to be given to children under three.
- Buyers of electronic gadgets are cautioned to heed ridiculous threats, like not to swallow their ipod, phone, or other device.
Trust and an expectation of personal responsibility and good sense have all been given the flick.
The way some people put it, we can’t trust anyone to be sensible so we must make them so by telling them what to do to in minute detail. Trouble is, this controlling approach is falling flat on its face. People will do what people choose to. Quite often, that means ignoring wall-to-wall warning signs, weighty doorstopper manuals, and babying rules. Which brings us to a hidden truth. The driving force of all of this apparently well-meaning distrust in personal responsibility is not for you, but to guard companies against legal action.
Thanks to the blaming process we have, to my mind, gone too far. In some Western countries, young people are being brought up to expect someone else is to blame when they trip over a crack in the pavement. To protect against litigation, trust and personal accountability have given way to warning overload.
So what’s the answer? I offer only one suggestion: what is reasonable. Is it reasonable to trust people to make certain decisions? What would a reasonable person be expected to do, given the situation? Lawyers might argue the ins and outs of reasonableness until the cows come home. But as a rule of thumb, it’s reasonable that if you are an adult, you deserve more than safety protection and information. You also deserve the privilege of personal responsibility and a certain amount of trust.
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