Sunday, November 11, 2007

Trust and the People We Interact With

Trust is invaluable. It's hard to find. It's hard to give. It's hard to maintain. It's so hard because it's not just about you. If you're entrusted by someone to do something or with something, you might have every intention in the world to do it right. But, I found it myself two days ago, I failed to do what was expected of me, not because I didn't do it right, but because someone else decided not to do what was expected of her.

Here's the story:

I was asked to take a credit card out of a safety box, then give it to our tour guide to be used to pay for all our expenses during the day. By the end of the day I was supposed to take the credit card back with all the receipts, keep it in the deposit box, and on the next day give it back to the person who entrusted me to do it.

I did exactly what I was asked to. I gave the credit card to our tour guide, told her to return it to me later with all the receipts. By the time we get back to our hotel, and I was inquiring about the credit card, I was told that the card had been returned to our host who unexpectedly decided to join us for dinner.

I wasn't alarmed. Truth be told, I was glad I didn't have to return the credit card to the safety box and kept the key. I didn't think it was strange at all that our tour guide didn't return the credit card back to me despite the fact that I had asked her to do exactly that. I thought one of the purposes of our host by coming for dinner with his wife was to take the credit card back. That's another lesson: we shouldn't make any assumption, particularly not in foreign countries.

The alarm and guilt came the next day when I met the person who entrusted me with the credit card. It never crossed my mind that he didn't know the credit card had been returned to his superior. And I didn't know either he needed that credit card now to settle all our expenses.

I felt guilty instantly. I felt that it was all my fault. That I had done something wrong. Until a couple of friends pointed out that it wasn't my fault. But still...even now I'm still thinking of what I could do differently.

What I know for sure is that, if I were our tour guide, before returning the credit card to its real owner I would inform the person who told me to return the credit card with all its receipts that instead of returning the credit card to her, I prefer to give it directly back to its owner. That way, the person who gave me the credit card could talk with its real owner to avoid any misinformation and misunderstanding.

But a friend who had lived in Korea for three years told me her candid observation about Koreans: there's no explanation. In this case I think she's right.

The lesson I've learned:

It's difficult to keep a trust given to you. Not because you're not a trustworthy person, but simply because in our daily lives we interact with other people. Sometimes, even though we did and tried our best to be trustworthy, the results were not as expected. Because our actions need to be supported by other people's actions before it becomes fruitful. It's a process. And we could only be responsible for our part.

Knowing that, somehow, I still feel guilty...
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