It is well recognized that poverty breeds mistrust (as well as a host of other nasties like conflict). The opposite however is also true, especially considering that poverty is primarily a mindset. Mistrust is rampant in Samoa. In this “Sermon from Samoa” I share examples from around me in Samoa of how mistrust breeds poverty.
Mankind enjoys wealth. It helps us to be happy and healthy and remain motivated. A large part of our sense of purpose (especially for men) comes from acquiring wealth of various sorts. Abundant food, clothing, assets, income streams and so on give us pleasure. It may sound strange coming from a guy living in a third world environment, but those around me are no different. Everyone here aspires to get a job, own a shop, a taxi or a bus, or to get a better house or to sell their produce for a good price.
[Pic: Catholic church in Upolo – once visited by the Pope]
An essential part of wealth generation is working with others, and trust is essential for the relationship to work. A Palagi will only hire a taxi from a driver he trusts not to rip him off. A builder will construct a house only if he believes that the client will pay for the work. His workers will only show for work if they trust that they will be paid the agreed rate.
Business is all about people and trust is essential to keep people on the same page.
When we travel around Samoa under the banner of the SWAP Foundation, we are constantly meeting new people and talking to them about ideas to improve their business. Everyone is excited and interested in what we have to say, and then, “WHAM!” we always hit a brick wall – trust. “Who are you? How can we trust you?” is the usual response. Sometimes it is verbal. Other times it is subconscious but basically nobody trusts anybody over here – even members of their own family if you really dig deep enough. There is a pervading “Spirit of Fear” within Paradise here.
I’ve blogged about all of this previously but there is a history of Palagi – Germans, Americans, Kiwis who have all helped themselves at the expense of Samoans. Their mistrust is perfectly natural, so I’m not knocking them unduly here. It’s just a fact. Trust is not the default setting in this culture – particularly trust of a Palagi.
So here’s how mistrust breeds poverty. Our people will speak about value-adding, rebranding, Internet marketing, working collaboratively and lots of other good things to more than one person. Many are scared to partner with us, so we just move on and leave them. I teach our team that Jesus taught the same thing. Stay and preach the Good News to those villages who want to listen, but dust off your sandals and move on if the villages do not want to here.
It’s the people who trust that receive the blessing. Those that mistrust miss it and many times remain in the poverty trap. It’s not that we are the only people that can help, and anybody has their own reasons for partnering with us or not but there is definitely a strongly ingrained “poverty mentality” here that dreams of riches but will never change until they get out of the mindset of mistrust.
I was talking to a guy here a week or so ago with a self-confessed anger problem. He was answering my question about why he didn’t have the family bus any longer. He is looking after family property where his brother had a successful bus run and a good shop in a prime location on the main drag. His brother had offered him the bus as well as a good bus run but the brother had sold it when he went to Australia. I thought this strange because a bus run is a good business over here, so I asked what happened. His reply in Pigeon English “Because I don’t want to go to jail!”
And then the truth came out. He hated getting tickets for overloading. Buses are limited to 33 seats and 33 passengers. They all routinely overload them – multiple people per seat – Samoans have no issue sitting on someone else’s lap and standing room full too. I have been told by many sources that the entrenched Police policy here is one of selective enforcement. If the driver is a relative of the Police Officer, or from the same village, nothing is done. If you’re a marked driver; or you got or get offside with the Police, or your village is not friends with the Police then you will get stopped, ticketed and have to cough up with a “big” fine of a few hundred Tala.
Apparently my contact was in the less fortunate camp and got pinged too often for his liking. He confessed that he got “ansey” with the Police some time back. With a short fuse and a nasty anger problem that I’ve personally witnessed I’m sure that would have lead to some pretty unsavoury things. Long story short, he said that his father came down to the Police station and sorted things out. The driver’s assistant went to jail “for” him and his Matai title and his clean reputation in the church was “saved”.
“OMG what a warped sense of justice this place has!” I thought when an innocent man takes the rap for a man out of control who is saved by a father protecting his families and church “honour”.
So let us understand this story in the context of mistrust vs poverty. A hard-working man, with the world at his feet passes up a generally highly coveted business opportunity with a bus run because of the fact that he cannot trust himself not to “deck a cop” (perhaps again). In some ways this might be wise, but it is another example of how mistrust (in this case mistrust of himself) breeds poverty (more correctly in this case prevents him from progressing).
But is gets worse . . .
We had plans to develop his land into a Village Stay. He got all the materials ready to build some nice Samoan Faleo’os ready for Palagi to stay. Now we wonder how we can trust him with the care of Palagi guests and are unlikely to recommend the place for foreigners to stay.
The mistrust thing is not just a once-off sadness; it is an ongoing permanent way of living that unless the underlying mindset is changed, the results will always be the same – poverty. Samoa is replete with investments from offshore by people who have great vision and passion but invest foolishly with people who have no vision, who do not trust and who are just out for the fast buck. They’ll be offered a Matai title, supposedly given great honour and then pushed around and fleeced due to “cultural requirements” thereby cementing mistrust as a two-way thing.
It’s a lot harder to build a relationship, develop trust and then work together in a partnership with people, encouraging them to have faith, work hard and as a team. The results though are hopefully a little more lasting.
The Good Book (It’s Sunday here in Paradise so we’ve got to get biblical now!) talks about the way that people united in purpose trusted each other, worked together and got behind a common vision. The construction of the Tower of Babel (a good collection of comments about it here) actually triggered a fairly major response from God who gave them a back-handed compliment for their unity and sense of purpose in the process of disrupting their plans of grandiosity. They were misguided by His standards of course but nonetheless the principles of trust, unity, sense of purpose and achievements remain.
Genesis 11:1-9 (American Standard Version)
And the whole earth was of one language and of one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. And they said one to another, Come, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. And they said, Come, let us build us a city, and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven, and let us make us a name; lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. And Jehovah came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. And Jehovah said, Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is what they begin to do: and now nothing will be withholden from them, which they purpose to do. Come, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. So Jehovah scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off building the city. Therefore was the name of it called Babel; because Jehovah did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did Jehovah scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.
The standard inference from this story is one of confusion, but mistrust is the default setting within new cross-cultural engagement. Increased mistrust correlates to a reduction in understanding. Once the people couldn’t communicate properly, mistrust caused financial loss and they were forced to spread out over the earth, thus ensuring their worst fears were realised.
It takes a “big” man to break through this and trust. A major part of the SWAP Foundation’s work up here is to build trust. We’re achieving it in pockets, and those places and people who do trust us are starting to see the blessings as a result. It’s a hard message to hear and to apply but in time it will surely happen!
Here endeth the
lesson Sermon from Samoa.