Notes from a Small Country

Trusting you is my decision. Proving me right is your choice

“Deep Throat said “trust no one.” And that’s hard, Scully. Suspecting everyone, everything, it wears you down. You even begin to doubt what you know is the truth. Before, I could only trust myself. Now, I can only trust you…” – Fox Mulder from The X Files TV show

Learning to trust is one of life’s most difficult tasks

It’s been a year in Denmark and I’m beginning to be concerned I won’t see danger coming anymore as I’ve actually cracked one of life’s most difficult tasks – learning to trust.

In the UK I was on alert all the time. I didn’t actually know it until I moved to the happiest country in the world. I was on unconscious alert 24/7 until now, it was exhausting.

From never letting my 5-year-old son out of sight in a public place to suspecting someone at work of trying to harm my progress when they offered help, trust for me did not exist unless it had been earned.

As long as you can persuade me to trust you, you have no reason to trust me

Yet the idea of earning trust is a broken one. You either trust or you don’t. Trust doesn’t exist from technique, tools or hacks, it exists in your character.

Much of my childhood was without a father or male figure, so I looked to Batman and Clint Eastwood (Man with no name and Dirty Harry) for mentoring and guidance. Not only were they cool, but they could also get out of any tricky situation.

These characters (like Mulder from the X Files) succeeded for the most part by trusting no one, and who could blame them with bad guys around every corner?

It wasn’t just comic and movie characters that formed my trust compass. The society I grew up in (1980’s UK) didn’t instil trust, it took it away. From politics, journalism, books, movies and TV, I was constantly exposed to a society where people were not to be trusted.

So what’s happened to me in the last 12 months? I’ve been exposed to a different society, one that’s happy to pay high taxes to a government demonstrating they use money wisely (helping everyone). I’m a member of a society that understands they’ll always be a minority of people abusing the benefits, yet that isn’t a reason to cut them for those in need.

It’s a society where at work people’s trust isn’t earned, it’s there from day one. You simply need to make sure you don’t break it.

The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them

“Take the car, you and your family are welcome to use it anytime we’re not.”

Said a person I had met only an hour before.

This wasn’t a conversation in the UK, it was at a dinner in Denmark, dinner with a family we’d met through my son’s kindergarten.

In Denmark trust really is in place from the beginning, it’s not earned as time goes by.

Danes believe that others have good intent. So even if I damaged the car, the trust that I wouldn’t damage it intentionally exists. Also, the trust I’d repair any damage is in play too.

Trust is the bedrock of Danish society. From parents leaving their babies in prams outside of shops and cafes (yes I really do see this) to business deals taking place based on a conversation or simple email transaction, it’s incredible that trust in others is so high.

I’ve actually witnessed a woman walking past a pram outside a cafe where a baby was crying, and then stop to pick up the baby and cuddle it.

Can you imagine this in the UK or USA? Forgetting the fact no parent in either country would leave their baby outside a cafe, if they did, there would be a parent running out of the cafe screaming about a kidnapping.

Not in Denmark, the mother and father came out and thanked the passer-by for helping.

One must be fond of people and trust them if one is not to make a mess of life

Where I live there’s an abundance of general societal trust. That is the ability to trust a person from the moment you meet them. What I’m learning is the assumption people are honest and reliable is the only worthwhile assumption, unless of course, they demonstrate otherwise.

When we look at studies, Denmark tops a list of 86 countries of trust in society. It’s reported up to a quarter of Denmark’s wealth can be attributed to trust (what economists can’t attribute to production, infrastructure, schooling etc.) In fact, it’s widely believed that trust saves a lot of bureaucratic problems, which on the face of it makes perfect sense.

Trust is built when no one is looking

So how can you benefit from lessons in trust if you don’t live in Denmark? I’m wondering this too as I’ll be returning to the UK in the future.

I’ve split trust into 3 activities. It’s these activities I’m practising each day. My hope is they’ll build my character and help me in any society and culture I’m part of.

I’m doing this because I know I won’t be able to blindly trust colleagues embedded into a cutthroat business culture or a person acting suspiciously outside my home. Yet I do know I can trust in myself.

I can trust that I’m trustworthy by default and perhaps that will make those around me trustworthy too.

Here’s what I’m doing, why not try it too and let me know how you get on?

  1. I’m making the time to care – I actually care about other people and instead of just thinking it, I’m demonstrating it through my actions
  2. I’ve put integrity on a pedestal – Being honest with strong moral principles is key in having a trusting relationship, it’s one of my top priorities
  3. I’m checking my intent – I’m asking myself what my intent is all the time. If I’m not acting out of good intent I stop and reset.

Good luck! I’m optimistic we can follow in the footsteps of Denmark and build trusting societies all over the world, the world needs this right now.

“Trust is like the air we breathe – when it’s present, nobody really notices; when it’s absent, everybody notices.” – Warren Buffett


I hope you enjoyed this episode of Notes from a Small Country? Please give me feedback directly or in the comments. Which part was your favourite? What do you want to see more or less of? Other suggestions? Let me know!

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See you next week for Episode 11.

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Genuine Kindness is the Ultimate Strength

So there I am in Nigeria, sitting across the road from a dead man in a ditch and all I’m thinking is ‘why hasn’t anyone moved him? The flies and the stink, arrggh!’

At the time it was only the second dead person I’d ever seen, and I was already becoming numb.

I spoke to the other volunteer next to me, he just nodded and said someone would come along at some point that day ‘I already said they’re never left for more than a day or two.’ was his reply.

Let’s call him Nigel, though that’s not his real name. He’d been volunteering in South Nigeria for the last 3 years and I was with him to learn how to get through the culture shock of my first few months. Then I’d be sent to the jungle village of my assignment, left to my own devices teaching mechanical engineering.

I remember that moment with Nigel clearly. It was the moment I realised I didn’t want to be like he was, that is numb to a dead person across the street.

One of my strengths is empathy and connection with people. I’m not perfect at it and still make mistakes, yet I’ve a solid foundation I’m working from. I didn’t realise that strength until my mid thirties while surrounded by software engineering teams, where at that time the people side was often neglected.

‘Leadership is about empathy.’ – Oprah Winfrey

It’s disappointing how long it can take for many organisations to understand the value of empathy and connection, it’s a proven winning ingredient for the success of individuals and teams.

A second strength I build on is intuition, again often overlooked and under valued in a world of software engineering and data centric decision making. In teams I support, I value intuition from everyone, otherwise why hire a person? There’s an old proverb ‘One cannot hire a hand – the whole man always comes with it’ . So why do so many organisations create a burden of proof required for people to do what their intuition (from the experience and skill they have), says needs doing? A culture of experimentation allows for this, another important ingredient for the success of individuals and teams.

So back to the dead person in the ditch not far from me. I stood up, put down my Sprite, took one of the dirty table cloths from a nearby table and walked across the dusty road. I placed it over the top half of the dead mans body, hoping to give him some dignity in the best way I could. I could see the diseased lower half that had killed him and felt sad all of a sudden, what if it was me?

After pausing with that thought and brushing off the flies buzzing around me, I walked back to the small street cafe. The cafe where Nigel was sitting, watching me. He was sat under a corrugated metal roof, a roof with rusty pin holes where the sun shone down across his head, making him look more angel like than he really was.

“I wish I’d have thought of doing that, I guess I’m just so numb to it now” he said looking at the ground.

Here’s what I promised myself from that moment onwards. I’ll never get numb to my surroundings, I won’t blindly follow others, I’ll always take note of my intuition, and most of all, I’ll always have empathy.

Genuine Kindness is the Ultimate Strength” – Quote from Gary Vee

If empathy and connecting with people is one of your strengths, use it and build on it. It’s amazing how many people in the work place don’t understand it’s value, and when they do you’ll be the one they look to for direction and support.

“If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” – Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)


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