When a young girl is jilted by a guy after she gets pregnant, she learns to distrust nearly every man after.
When a soft loan given with the best of intentions turns into a bad debt, the creditor learns to ask for a post-dated cheque for every subsequent transaction afterwards or even stops lending all together.
When a patron at a club rakes up a huge bill, and is granted a waiver with the understanding that during the weekday he would payback, but instead he runs away. The club owner starts a new policy that prohibits credit from being extended to other club goers.
My elder sister, Dr. Amaka Ezeadikwa, has a motto, “Love all but trust none”. I don’t know why or how she came up with that line, but it’s been her motto since she was about six years old and she wrote it on all her exercise books in school! But it’s pretty depressing. Trust like money facilitates every business relationship. When trust is eroded, the cost of money goes up. Where trust exists, the cost of doing business reduces considerably. Where there is trust, then lending, borrowing and credit can happen with relative ease, all of which assists greatly to ensure that business deals go without hitches.
There was a time when really important business transactions could happen over a promise and a handshake – no post-dated cheques, no Memorandum of Understanding, no agreement papers. My father told me of a time when during market days, traders would leave their wares on the table unattended to, and their customers would come around to pick up what they wanted and drop off the money on the table.
Today, times have changed or the people have changed. Now even with a business agreement and post-dated cheque, people still tend to dishonour agreements time and again.
I remember while growing up in Warri, we had a public tap installed just outside the gate of our house. It was available for any and everyone to fetch clean water in buckets- completely free of course. The landlord (my father) only requested that the tap be turned off after every usage. However what happened was we, repeatedly had people violate this simple agreement. After a while, we got tired of the wastage and stopped giving the free water all together.
Now I’m sure not every user of this shared public commodity was guilty of leaving the tap running after use. However when the water tank repeatedly ran out of water due to misuse, it didn’t take long for the landlord to decide not to be such a good Samaritan anymore. But everyone suffered for the actions of a few.
I watched an episode of the T.V series, Shark Tank, where one of the entrepreneurs pitching his business idea to the sharks was perceived as being insincere by Daymond John, founder of FUBU, and he stepped out and gave his reasons as, “I just don’t trust the guy”. His distrust was quite infectious and within 5 minutes flat, all other four angel investors backed away from a promising invention created by the young entrepreneur, because rather than take a chance and increase their own personal wealth, they chose to instead do business with someone they could trust and go to bed with both eyes closed.
Such is life, the cost of each failed transaction doesn’t only affect the erring party but also rubs off badly on every other subsequent business relationship with parties that were not involved or even aware in the failed deal. This is what is known as the Curse of the Commons; a situation where a common resource is enough to go around and meet everyone’s need but not their greed. So when a few people decide to get greedy and grab more than their fair share, in the short run the greedy ones may benefit, however over the course of time, the resource gets depleted and then the greedy few and the rest, all together suffer for the actions of the few.
Whenever a shared commodity e.g trust is violated, it affects not only the guilty party but also every other person who would have benefited from this shared interest. Wouldn’t it then be a lot better if we each could become better at ensuring we are our brother’s keeper? And setup an “honour code” in situations where we have a shared resource that safeguards the interest of the many, while ensuring that the greedy few immediately get penalized and banned altogether from enjoying the benefits of this shared resource the moment it is discovered that they are no longer playing by the rules? The pain of violation must be so painful as to deter anyone from ever thinking of becoming greedy, kind of like a credit-score record. This way we protect the sacredness of trust in our business relationships as our most uniting common resource, and ensure that the community at large continues to benefit from a shared mutual trust.
Warren Buffet admonished his management team “We can afford to lose money, even a lot of money. But we cannot afford to lose integrity, even a shred of it”. I think we all can learn a lesson from this, where we don’t yet have the trust of others, we must strive to earn it. When we do have this trust, we must strive even harder to keep it.