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Misplaced Trust

October 16, 2014 — 8 Comments

trustingWhy do some nurses kill? Most people attracted to the nursing profession possess deep reservoirs of compassion for others. And yet, every once in a while we read about a nurse intentionally taking the life of a patient.

Today’s case comes from Italy, where a forty-two year old nurse is under investigation for thirty-eight possible cases of murder. And we are not talking about the ending of a life that some would term euthanasia.

Poggiali did not overdose them to end their suffering. She did it simply because they irritated her. She, or their relatives, bothered her.

One troubling aspect of the case could only happen today. Authorities have actually found a photograph on her phone where she is standing beside a deceased patient giving a “thumbs up” sign. (The article didn’t indicate whether this was a sickening “selfie,” or if there is another person at the hospital with a similarly demented sense of humor.

When people we implicitly trust violate our faith in them, it is jarring. We struggle to comprehend things when . . .

Medical professionals intentionally cause injury . . .

Clergy behave immorally, particularly when they attempt to justify it from the pulpit . . .

Police victimize rather than protect . . .

Teachers care more about themselves than their students . . .

Soldiers display cowardice rather than courage . . .

There is some good news here. It is precisely because these breaches of our expectations are the rare exception, that we are shocked by them. For the most part, people entrusted by the public with authority or power honor that trust.

(Let’s exclude, for our discussion here, the case of politicians, where that supposition would be hotly debated. As Lewis in his essay “Equality” wrote, “Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows.”)

Our trust in people who occupy special positions goes so far as to be illogical. For example, we tend to think of actors or actresses as possessing the traits of various characters they have portrayed.

We laugh at the joke, “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.” Yet, we’re still tempted to ask the person how we can best deal with our persistent cough or chronic rash.

We think of television cops as believing in law and order, but if we seriously considered the matter, we would recognize just how foolish that is. They are no more, or less, likely than anyone else in Hollywood to be law abiding.

An ongoing scandal reveals just how disorienting it can be to have our illusions shattered. It is the case of Stephen Collins. In the popular Seventh Heaven series, he played the ideal father. A pastor, no less. We mourn for the lives he has injured, and we subconsciously grieve our own disillusionment.

The solution to the problem is not in ceasing to trust others. Life from that perch would result in paranoia and alienation.

No, I think that it still makes sense to trust—within limits. I am willing to extend my trust to someone in a respected profession who I have just met. That is based on the profession’s self-policing of standards.* Most require minimal education and competence standards, and have mechanisms for decertifying those who violate professional ethics.

Still, when time allows, the best advice is probably to “trust and verify.” The time I take to verify whether the person’s credentials or claims are true corresponds to the importance of what I’m entrusting to them. I would leave my car with a mechanic far sooner than I would entrust my child to a babysitter.

Returning to the case with which we began, we assume that a hospital is one of the safest places to be. And, even in light of the latest tragedy, this remains true.

For every one nurse tempted to end a complainer’s life early, there are a hundred thousand** who are striving to prolong the lives of their charges.

Trusting should not only be viewed as something we extend to others. Each of us would do well to ponder for a few moments just how trustworthy we are. This is especially true for those of us in privileged or respected professions. However, it is no exaggeration to say that the measure of any woman or man is determined by the degree to which they have earned the trust of others.

Lewis writes about the nature of trust, as it relates to friendship. It doesn’t relate to trust imbued in societal roles, but rather in the trust that exists where a relationship is already present. Still, he expertly describes the interplay between mind and heart, when it comes to trust. And this explains, in part, why the betrayal of our trust causes us so much anguish, in mind and soul.

To love involves trusting the beloved beyond the evidence, even against much evidence. No man is our friend who believes in our good intentions only when they are proved. No man is our friend who will not be very slow to accept evidence against them. Such confidence, between one man and another, is in fact almost universally praised as a moral beauty, not blamed as a logical error. And the suspicious man is blamed for a meanness of character, not admired for the excellence of his logic. (“On Obstinacy in Belief”).

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* The fact that some “professions” don’t have any mandatory requirements or standards, means that I remain wary when I meet people sporting those titles. For example, in America it’s possible to “ordain” oneself (or buy a meaningless diploma or certificate online). Thus, when someone tells me they are a minister, I am eager to learn more (about their education, congregation, accountability, etc.). There are far too many hucksters out there to take a person’s word for it that they are a genuine minister of God.

** Perhaps a slight exaggeration, but I’d like to continue believing that the ratio is something wonderful like that, 1:100,000. Then again, if I think of it literally, in terms of how many are “tempted” to expedite the passing of an inconsiderate and ungrateful patient, I imagine the numbers might be rather less encouraging.

PENTAX ImageDo you ever talk to inanimate or non-sentient objects? My wife often talks to her computer, and though she is never vulgar, the conversation is rarely pretty.

There is a current advertisement featuring the slightly off Gary Busey, in which he says, “If you’re like me, you like to talk to things.” His gaze drifts to the side, and he adds, “Hello lamp.” Smiling after greeting his tabletop light source, he drops his gaze and gets an expression like someone who has just encountered a long lost friend. “Hello, pants.”

It’s quite bizarre, but rather humorous in an oddly disconcerting way.

My wife and I named the first car we owned. It was an orange Gremlin. Newlyweds, and still in college, we named it Hezekiah in the hopes that it would “live” long.

In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover.’” Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, saying, “Now, O Lord, please remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.”

And Hezekiah wept bitterly. And before Isaiah had gone out of the middle court, the word of the Lord came to him: “Turn back, and say to Hezekiah the leader of my people, Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the Lord, and I will add fifteen years to your life. (2 Kings 20).

A recent survey in the United States found that nearly a quarter of the population give their rides a name. Younger drivers (18-34) do so more frequently than their parents, with 36 percent giving their cars a personal name. “Hello, car.”

A British poll found that women are more likely than men to attribute personality to their cars, with 60 percent naming their rides compared with 41 percent of men.

The higher likelihood of a British car being named than its American cousin does not surprise me. After all, we learned during our three years in the United Kingdom that they even name their houses. We lived on a family farm near Newbury while stationed at RAF Greenham Common. There were several domiciles on the farm, each with its respective appellation. We resided in “New House,” which was ironically a good thirty years old.

C.S. Lewis’ house in Oxford had a name. “The Kilns” received its distinctive name when it was built on the site of a former brickworks. There is a small lake nearby, which was originally the clay pit which supplied the kilns.

In the United States I suppose it’s possible to find a few places where a home has a name rather than a number. But the norm in our systematized structure is for homes to have sequential numbers. This proves quite practical for reasons such as emergency response by fire fighters, and doubtless many other countries have adopted the practice.

We’ve made the change at some cost though. Houses do have architectural character. Personalities, even. When naming houses, some might choose labels that relate to the profession of the owner. For example:

Clergy: Ascension Manor or Hosanna House

Attorney: Prosecution Place or Litigation Lodge

Physician: Resident’s Residence or Hemorrhoid Hall

If one dispenses with a requirement for alliteration as an arbitrary naming convention—the options would expand exponentially.

Sadly, we don’t get to name our houses today, unless we do so informally like one would with an automobile. We must be content for our streets to possess names while our houses must be content with numbers.

If you are interested in reading more about unusual or entertaining house names, check out this site. (It’s from the United Kingdom, of course.) Names like “Tadpole Cottage,” “Leprechaun’s Leap,” and “The Riddlepit” certainly evoke entertaining images.

Perhaps you’ll also want to consider naming your own home. It just might make your conversations with your residence a little more interesting when they no longer have to begin with “Hello, house . . .”