Action Words #1

The Trust of the Matter

It’s a mild Monday morning and I’m in the usual pre-work stupor, trying to stay awake before I reach work, AKA my coffee destination. On the bus I plug my headphones in, filling my ears with an intellectual discussion to distract myself on the commute.

Would you say most people around you can be trusted?” the podcast asks. Most people in the US and the UK answer ‘no’ — that is according to the results of a survey asking people that very question, the narrator explains. Thus these nations are known as having low social trust. It piques my interest. Australia, just when I was losing faith, scores highly on the list of countries where citizens show higher rates of trust within society and their communities than they did twenty to thirty years ago. I thought our (possibly substantiated) fear of stranger-danger would stand in the way. It feels like we don’t trust our politicians, we don’t trust the media, we don’t trust industries, we don’t trust our neighbourhood, and we don’t trust any random person on the street.

Now, with an apparent rise of the alt-right in Australia, leading divisive policy and distrust amongst sectors of society, it may feel like our moment in the trusting sun will be fleeting.

My bus pulls up outside a leafy north-side primary school and a trickle of kids walk off. Out the window I see a girl, aged ten, pause, frantically watching the automatic door, her eyes progressively scanning the bus faster and faster. I remember that feeling. I follow the girl’s gaze to a kid with hair as equally blonde as hers, nervously perched on the back seat of the bus. It seemed he still wasn’t sure how to proceed. I could feel his pain . As much as I’ve been the older sister, I was the little one who missed the stop on the bus too.

The bus is accelerating now and the kid is still too petrified to move. On board, I’m not the only who reads the situation. “Driver!” various voices rise. The creaky old Action buses, coupled with the fact that the driver wears earphones don’t make it easy for passenger-driver communication. “Stop!” the message gets relayed up the bus like a game of Telephone. Finally, the bus jerks to a halt and the boy scurries towards the door; the bus collectively holding its breath, while he stumbles with his MyWay card. The boy is so short I’m afraid the driver won’t be able to see him still there, and will drive off again. It feels like five minutes have passed before the familiar beep-beep signals ‘all good’ and he joins his sister.

This moment, alongside the stats about Australia’s social trust levels, paint a much more hopeful picture of us that I want to hold onto. When I think about it, my everyday is full of kind actions like this one, where an entire bus of people helped one kid make it to school before the bell. A few minutes later, a man juggling his bag, his phone and his coffee, drops his bus card, only to have someone tap him on the shoulder and return it.

Communities with higher rates of social trust are proven to be happier, the podcast informs me, as well as an article ‘On Trusting‘ by The Conversation. This is not hard to understand. We are more relaxed and connected when we trust others. What is hard, is working out how to increase or at least maintain higher levels of trust. This is most difficult when the world feels a bit like it’s crumbling around us, when discrimination and racist policy makes it into governmental and popular discourse and when so often we feel alone while surrounded by others.

People will forever do bad things to each other, but people are good too. It’s important to balance the scales a bit, relish in moments of kindness, and create them — because we can’t grow trust from nothing. And we can’t truly understand the facts if we only hear of the scary stories of hurtful actions. We can’t halt the rolling wheels of violence by adding more destructive discourse. I step off the bus into the morning sun, pull my earphones out and take a big gracious breath of Canberran air in, and go about my day.

Action Words is a series inspired by the people and things Olivia encounters in an unremarkable part of her everyday. She takes Action buses to work most days of the week — this time spent on public transport is often quite meditative and contemplative for her. Olivia’s intention was to find something of consequence in the ordinary.




Olivia is 23 and grew up in country NSW, then moved to Tasmania for university. There she completed a Ba Arts and Ba Science combined degree, majoring in Journalism, Media and Communications as well as Zoology.Olivia predominately writes creative non-fiction, but her published experience is mainly in news and culture writing. She’s written for a variety of publications including a university magazine, Togatus, Southern Riverina NewsThe Riot Act, Out in Canberra, Love and List, Conservation Careers, the ACT Writers Centre blog and magazine and her own blog, A Traveller at Home. She currently works in Canberra in book sales and distribution.
Image from here.

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