A Matter of Trust*

Rebuilding TrustOne of the most difficult things to do, especially for people who’ve been betrayed, is to learn to trust (or trust again). After all, why should you trust if you’ve already seen what can happen? The tension caused by the instinct not to trust, whether or not it’s warranted, can add an awful lot to a novel. And it is a natural human reaction, so it can also add a layer of credibility to a character. There are myriad novels that make use of this plot thread; I’ll just mention a few.

In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Tom Robinson, who is Black, is accused of raping Mayella Ewell, who is White. He says that he is innocent, but that doesn’t count for much in the small-town Alabama community where he lives. Robinson has no reason at all to trust his lawyer Atticus Finch, if you think about it. Finch is White, and Robinson has learned the hard way to be wary of Whites. What’s more, Finch is well-connected in the town. If he takes up an unpopular cause like Robinson’s, and gives it more than ‘lip service,’ his law practice (and perhaps much more) is at risk. And yet, the only way to go about this case is for Finch and Robinson to trust each other. It’s awkward at times, but once each man is able to have some faith in the other, the case moves forward.

Malla Nunn’s work discusses similar issues of trust. This series ‘stars’ Emmanuel Cooper, who lives and works in 1950s South Africa, when apartheid was strictly enforced. Even before those laws, there was mistrust among the different ethnic groups in that country; in this series, we see how that mistrust has hardened as a result of the laws. Cooper is White, and a police officer. So it’s easy to see why non-Whites don’t trust him at all, at least at first. Why should they? He is also not completely trusted by the Afrikaners he encounters, because his background is English. As he investigates cases, Cooper has to work very hard to negotiate the deep layers of mistrust he encounters. It takes time, but he demonstrates that he can be trusted. And slowly, he develops contacts in several different ethnic groups. He’s able to penetrate the superficial ‘face’ that people put on in the presence of those they cannot trust.

We also see the slow development of a kind of trust in Giles Blunt’s Forty Words For Sorrow. When a body is discovered in an abandoned mine on Windigo Island, John Cardinal of the Algonquin Bay (Ontario) Police investigates. To his dismay, the body is identified as thirteen-year-old Katie Pine, who disappeared five months earlier. Cardinal took the lead in searching for her, but wasn’t able to find her. Now he has the thankless job of informing her mother Dorothy that her body has been discovered. His task is made all the more difficult because he wasn’t able to find her daughter until it was far too late. As if that wasn’t enough to make Dorothy mistrust him, there’s another barrier. Cardinal is White, and the Pines are Ojibwa. So Dorothy has very little reason to trust that he will make her case a priority, or that he can be taken at his word. In the end, Cardinal does find out what happened to Katie. It doesn’t make things all fine again, but it justifies some trust in him.

Adrian Hyland’s Emily Tempest is half White/half Aboriginal. She is trusted and accepted among her mother’s people at the Moonlight Downs encampment, and that helps to give her a place to belong. That matters, too, because in Diamond Dove (AKA Moonlight Downs) and Gunshot Road, we see that she is not trusted, and certainly not respected, amongst several members of the White community. The feeling is most definitely mutual, as Tempest has seen little reason to trust any of the ‘whitefellers.’ In both novels, members of both groups have to learn to trust each other in order to get cases solved. Tempest has to learn that there are some Whites, including her boss Tom McGillivray, who are trustworthy and in whom she can have faith. In turn, her White counterparts have to learn that Tempest can be trusted to do her job as an ACPO (Aboriginal Community Police Officer).

And then there’s Mark Douglas-Home’s The Sea Detective. In one plot thread of that novel, Preeti and Basanti, two young girls from India’s Bedia community, embark on what they hope will be a lucrative adventure. Their families have been paid considerable money, in exchange for which they’ve agreed to become part of the dhanda, one name given to India’s sex trade. They’re both hoping that if they can earn enough from a few years in the trade, they’ll be able to return to their villages and support their families. Things go very, very wrong when they are sent to Scotland, where their services are bought by dangerous people. Once they arrive, they are separated. Basanti manages to escape, and goes looking for her friend, but Preeti has disappeared. Basanti learns that the body of a young woman has been discovered in the sea, and that the victim is most likely Preeti. Basanti’s search for answers leads her to oceanographer Calladh ‘Cal’ McGill, who is an expert on tide patterns. He, too, is interested in the discovery of the body and has gathered a great deal of information about it. In order to trace Preeti’s murder back to her killers, Basanti is going to have to learn to trust Cal, something that’s not easy for her, given what she’s been through. And Cal is going to have to trust this enigmatic young woman. In the end, they are able to work together and get some answers.

In all of these examples, there is every good reason for lack of trust. The only way for these characters to get beyond that barrier is to demonstrate – not just with words, but with sincere action – that they are trustworthy.

The terrible murders in Charleston, South Carolina have got me thinking about this issue of trust and mistrust. The murders themselves are of course, horrible. There is no justification for them, and there are no words, even for a writer, to adequately capture the awful reality of what happened. I hope that the victims’ families and friends are at least a bit comforted by the fact that millions of people, including me, stand with them at this time.

Along with standing by those who mourn, I think we need to consider where we go from here. Tears and sorrow are a part of it all, and they are important. But they are not enough. An already-fragile trust was shattered. Now, at least in my opinion, we need to take proactive, meaningful steps – steps that go beyond rhetoric – to deserve trust again. It will be awkward, difficult and painful. It will require soul-searching that will hurt. But in the end, it may spare us something else like this. I hope so.


*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a Billy Joel song.


Filed under Adrian Hyland, Giles Blunt, Harper Lee, Malla Nunn, Mark Douglas-Home

20 responses to “A Matter of Trust*

  1. Oh, well put, Margot! It’s a very sad, very shocking event indeed. A most appropriate post for it, reminding us that it’s not a new issue, but that it can and should be resolved…

    • Thank you, Marina Sofia. It is devastating, and even more so considering that this issue keeps coming up. As you say, we can – we need to – resolve this. We all need to work proactively and in ways that earn trust and respect. To me, that’s the key to moving ahead. I know it’s a lot easier to write it than do it, but we need to do it.

  2. Annette Rochelle Aben

    I read a account that said the gunman mentioned that he almost did not carry out his plan because the folks in the church had been so welcoming. In my heart I can only hope that churches continue to trust and welcome everyone into their midst. Obviously one never knows but then again, one never knows.

    • I didn’t know that, Annette. In a way, it makes it all the more sad. Like you, I hope that religious groups will continue to be welcoming.It won’t solve anything if the barriers that separate us get even higher and more fortified. And I truly hope that we will resolve to be worthy of that trust.

  3. I am always behind on news like this, Margot, because I avoid reading the news. So I am still processing this (as I am sure we all are). So sad in so many ways I cannot put it into words.

    I do want to read Malla Nunn’s books and they seem particularly appropriate.

    • I don’t blame you for not liking to read the news, Tracy. And this story is a lot to process. It is so very, very sad. Words don’t do it justice. I hope you do get the chance to read Malla Nunn’s work; it’s really quite well-written.

  4. kathy d.

    I agree about the horrific events in Charleston, S. Car. That someone has so much racist hatred that he could go into a church, be welcomed and sit among the congregants who are friendly to him, especially Rev. Pinkney, and then shoot and kill 9 people is beyond understanding by any decent human being.
    We all have to do a lot. Racism is still rampant. There are white supremacist groups with weapons around the South that obviously reached the shooter. The Confederate flag still flies in South Carolina. Black people have to drive down highways named after Confederate generals, as pointed out.by Jon Stewart and others.
    This horrendous act has been called “racist terrorism” by many TV anchors and journalists. The New York Times asked why this can’t be called terrorism. An op-ed earlier in the week in that paper said that the major threats to safety in this country are not from Muslim extremists, from ISIS, but from home-grown ultra-right militias and neo-Nazis. Obviously, they affected Charleston’s gunman who wore flags of apartheid South Africa and white-ruled Rhodesia, now independent Zimbabwe.
    I think we who live here have to figure out what to do about this situation in a collective will, as strong as the 1950s-1960s Civil Rights Movement. I personally can’t do anything except send a card and a small donation to the AME Zion church in Charleston. That this church has a civil rights history going back to the early 1800s was not lost on the gunman. It’s a historic church. I encourage everyone to do what they can.
    I know I wanted to stop watching the news and turn back to my current read, “Baksheesh,” by Turkish writer, Esaman Aykol, which is delightful, but this is reality in my country, and I have to do what I can.

    • You’re right, Kathy, that this is incomprehensible. And yet, it happened. As you say, we still have a lot of work to do to move forwards as a society. And the one thing we cannot do is stay silent about it. So I’m glad you commented. Like you, I find it tempting at times to turn away from the news and bury my nose in a book. But this needs a real resolution.

  5. Col

    Absolutely awful, this recent occurrence. Thoughtful post as always – I just wish you hadn’t had to make it.

  6. A very thoughtful post, Margot. Why is America allowing these shocking and condemnable incidents of shootings to happen again and again, almost year after year?

    • Thank you, Prashant. I don’t know why this continues to be allowed. I mean, I can guess at the political and economic ‘back room dealing’ that goes on, but I find it just as incomprehensible as you do. Add that to the fragile race relations in that area, and you get tragedy.

  7. Well said, Margot. What that shooter took from those poor people…it’s unimaginable. And in a place of worship, where they should feel safe! You’re right; there are no words.

    • Thanks, Sue. I really am at a loss for words about this. It really is so awful. I only hope that we can all act in ways that merit trust and respect, so that everyone can heal and we can move forward, not just move on.

  8. The change to the mentality of the people who carry out these horrors will inevitably be a slow process, but as an outsider it baffles me why the US doesn’t take the step of curtailing guns. It doesn’t get rid of the hate but it limits the damage. However it’s obviously a complicated subject in America, tied in with beliefs about freedom. Personally, and I’m really not trying to be confrontational or controversial, but I think the freedom of people to worship in peace with their friends and families ranks above the freedom to bear arms. The reaction of the families of the victims has been moving and inspirational and the coming together of the community is the ultimate defeat for those who choose this way to try to divide.

    • Beautifully said, FictionFan. I know that you’re not trying to be confrontational about the gun issue. Quite honestly, I’m completely with you on that point. It is a complex matter, and with over 330 million people here, it’s hard to get anything like consensus on it. But I truly hope that if nothing else, this horror will help us to see the urgency of doing something real about gun violence. As you say, regardless of how one might feel about one ethnic group or another, the right of people to worship peacefully as they choose is far more important than the right to carry a weapon around.
      That aside, you’re right that changing the mentality of people who commit these kinds of atrocities is a slow and difficult process. It takes open and painful discussion and hard, proactive work. All of that difficulty is nothing, though, compared to the terrible consequences of not doing that work, or of denying that there’s anything really wrong. I hope we will start to behave in ways that deserve the trust it takes to even begin such conversations.

  9. Kathy D.

    The conservatives want the right to bear arms in more and more places. A man (white) was allowed to carry on his body a rifle in an airport in the South in full view. If a Black person had done that, he would have been on the ground with guns by police pointed at him, as Whoopi Goldberg pointed out on her TV show.
    The NRA is a very powerful lobby which pushes laws all over the country in every state to have even less gun control and allow the carrying of guns.
    It’s absolutely horrendous. And it just gets worse.
    Yes, I agree. The right of people to worship, in fact, live, walk, drive, swim in pools, etc., in safety far outweighs any right to bear arms. In fact, the issue of the sanctity of human life has been whittled away here, especially for people of color.
    On Friday the vigil in Charleston in another Black Church was filled with people of many nationalities and religions. That is so important and has to continue.
    But a big issue now is the flying of the Confederate flag in Charleston. When the U.S. and state flags were flying at half-mast because of the deaths, the Confederate flag was not. Many are calling for an end to it, as did President Obama.

    • It’s very important, indeed, Kathy, that we all stand together at this time and work proactively to acknowledge the racism that there is, and to do something about it that goes beyond rhetoric. It’s good to know that that’s happening in terms of all sorts of people supporting the families and friends of those who were murdered.
      You’re right too about the power of the NRA and its associates. There’s also the inertia that comes from the ‘well, we’ve always done this’ sort of attitude. It’s an equally important soul searching that we need to do.

  10. A thoughtful, respectful and appropriate post Margot. Thanks for your words.

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