I recently decided that, at the age of 21, I am too old to be entirely dependent on my parents. Determined and ready to make some money on my own, I took a walk down the freelancing career-path. After slugging away for five months on articles for a client, I got my first pay. Suffice it to say that the hours I put in weren’t commensurate with the amount I got.
So then began the look-out for my breakthrough job. I sent proposals to clients on Freelancer, Guru, Upwork – you name it. A few responded, but they were paying via Paypal (which has refused services in Pakistan). Others completely discarded my proposals (on platforms like Upwork, you can see when the client last viewed the job post and how many freelancers s/he has hired, therefore I am sure that my proposals were ignored). Yet another group were paying via online payment systems that were not Paypal (!) or bank transfers, but their rates were lower than my current client’s.
Then came one reply. The reply!
The client sent me his Skype ID and told me to contact him there. I did, but unenthusiastically. At this point, I had already been turned down by several clients (directly or indirectly) and had been dealt the Paypal-card by others. Understandably, I sent him a message on Skype without zest or zeal. And surprisingly, he replied within minutes.
And the offer he gave! I was over the rainbow! Dollar signs swam before my eyes: the guy would be paying me around 5 times more than the client I was working for at the time. Although I would be writing a lot more, he promised payment via Paypal, Skrill or a bank transfer every week, whilst my other client would pay me on a monthly basis. Jubilant, I steered clear of Paypal of course and chose a bank transfer as the desired mode of payment.
I told my dad (Baba – term of endearment for a father in Pakistan) about the offer. Baba was equally excited for me, but he said something which I may not forget anytime soon. He said, ‘Beta, agar ye Pakistani hua, phir ye aap ko cheat kar jae ga. Kaam karae ga hafte ke liye aur paisey nahin de ga.’
Roughly translated: ‘Child, if the client is Pakistani, he will make you work for him for a week and will end up defaulting on the payment.’
I laughed it off then and pegged the piece of advice up to Baba’s intensely protective attitude. The client’s name on Skype was Geoff, and he claimed he was from the USA; for me, that was good enough.
But the following week, every time I spoke to the client on Skype, every time he assigned me an article, and every time I sent the finished article back to him, I found myself hoping and wishing and praying. I did not pray for my client to be honest. I did not pray for him to be kind and gentle and considerate. I did not even pray for him to pay me on time for all the sweat and hours I was putting in for him. I prayed for him to not be a Pakistani.
I hate myself for it. It is shameful to admit and painful to write, but there you have it. I wished for my client to be an American, or an Australian, or British – anything, anything except a Pakistani.
I believed that the client’s nationality had some sort of link to his trustworthiness. My belief was so strong, it was entrenched as part of my mentality. I realised that I did not need to hear Baba’s words; I would have wished for the same thing had I not consulted him (or anyone else). I had grown up being desensitised to the fact that my own countrymen and my own fellow Pakistani brothers and sisters were to be trusted the least. Nobody could harm me as much as a Pakistani friend could. No one can cause as much sorrow and pain as a Pakistani family member can. It was mind control to such an extent that I had to see this day, when some stranger I had never met in my life was being trusted by me solely because he was an American.
The problem here is something I’d like to call THE CYCLE OF MISTRUST.
On the one hand, you have poverty cycles (where a poor individual can’t get loans because he can’t provide security – or collateral – for those loans. His access to credit is severely limited, and he has no money to invest in himself. Because he can’t invest in his education or in setting up a small business, he remains unskilled and poor. Because he’s poor, he can’t get loans as he lacks collateral. And the circle continues). Here is a more precise illustration:
Introducing: the Cycle of Mistrust.
I expect fraudulent behaviour from you. I shape my own behaviour according to the fraudulent behaviour I am expecting from you, and thus, I behave deceitfully as well. Now, I know you’re being deceitful. You know I know you’re being deceitful. I know you know I know you’re being deceitful. Somewhere along the way, our trust in each other is destroyed. You have incentive enough to default, and I have incentive enough to default.
The trust is gone.
If your head is spinning, ask yourself a few questions.
When a friend announces they got their dream job, what is the first thought that crosses your mind?
He must have gotten it through sifaarish (one of many Urdu words that has no literal English translation. This one here means gaining a benefit through your connections)!
When you hear about a politician or leader setting up a charity organisation, do you, for one second, believe s/he did this for purely altruistic reasons?
Of course not! S/He must have had some ulterior financial motive!
When an employee calls in sick, is the boss going to believe that the employee is really sick?
He is probably only trying to skip a day’s work.
Why have we become so suspicious of each other? Why is it so hard to trust one another? Why are we constantly thinking about what the other person’s ultimate objective is? Why is it so difficult to acknowledge what people are saying as the complete truth?
How do we make this cycle stop?
The poverty cycle is easy enough: Dear Government, please make microcredit the next big thing!
It is nowhere as simple with trust. You can’t put a Trust Tax on products and you can’t subsidise people to start trusting each other. It all comes down to honesty and a change of heart. It requires patience, time, and stemming suspicion.
Whether you are a Muslim…
…or a Buddhist…
…or an atheist, or black, or white, or poor, or filthy rich…
…you know how important trust is.
Instead of teaching our children to stay away from people as they are chronic liars, why not teach them to be honest? Why are we indirectly promoting dishonesty by telling each other to expect it at all times from…well, everyone? How about being models of truth ourselves?
You’re probably thinking: hey, give me a break. Trust is important in our daily lives, but how on Earth does it affect us on a large scale?
Don’t limit trust to telling your best friend a secret and expecting them not to pass it on! This is larger than life: trust is applicable to your family, your friends, your neighbours, and your government. Those people in power right now came from homes and backgrounds that were very similar to yours’. If we have little to no trust in each other right now, how can we hope to trust each other when we manage to reach the upper echelons? And if every single civilian distrusts the government and the government distrusts every single civilian, how does this not affect us on a macro-level?
I’ll leave you with a final thought.
By the way, the client defaulted on the payment.