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Trust and community: lessons I've learned

My mom's family is a bunch of conspiracy theorists. Throughout my childhood I heard that I would not reach adulthood because "the apocalypse" would come first. Cell phones were to be avoided at all costs, because they contained GPS units the government could use to track you. When microchips for pets were first introduced, it heralded Disaster with a capital D - the mark of the devil was sure to follow! Y2K was expected to be a major catastrophe - I was the only person in my family who was convinced it would not be a big deal, and I admit, I gloated a bit when the electricity didn't so much as flicker. My grandpa even had his Costco card registered to a false name. (I don't think this is possible anymore, because they make you show your driver's license, but 15 years ago apparently it was.)

My mom, although less extreme than her parents and aunts and uncles, tends to believe that the world is out to get her. She often warned us not to trust adults in positions of authority; the youth leaders were "overstepping their bounds," while college advisers "always give you the wrong information." Although we grew up religious, my mom never integrated into a church community and constantly believed other people in the group were talking behind her back and/or were out to get her, take her money, or hurt her in whatever way they could. Even my and my sister's friends were suspect. We were absolutely forbidden to tell anyone about what my mom did for a living because she was worried someone in the community might try to "steal" her job. Although sometimes I saw how illogical this was, I think no matter how much I tried to be different from my family, to some extent I still internalized their mindset that the world was out to get me.

But the problem with never trusting other people is that when you see life as you, alone, against the world, life is lonely, difficult and unrewarding. Not to mention you eliminate valuable resources. My mom taught me how to research, but she did not teach me how to network or how to make friends. In the past couple years, one very valuable thing I have been learning is to see the world as full of potential allies and friends, rather than enemies. I'm naturally more optimistic and trusting than the rest of my family, but there was always something in me that believed people would abandon me or lead me astray when I needed them. So I liked people, but from a distance. It wouldn't have occurred to me to ask for help from another person - I was the one who helped everybody else. It wasn't out of kindness, necessarily, but out of a need to control my own life, and a fear that if I dared to trust someone it would end up backfiring.


A few months ago, one of my close friends took it upon herself, without my asking, to call all of my potential wedding venues and compile information. She saved me hours of work. I was flabbergasted - no one had ever done anything like that for me before. It had never occurred to me that anyone ever would. It was the first time I thought that maybe it was all right not to do everything all by myself - that my community was there, ready and willing to help me if I just let them.

When I was young, I remember my mom reacting with disgust to the proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child" - she was offended by the idea that she couldn't be all her children needed. I don't have kids, and I have no idea what raising a child will be like, but I know this much: being part of a village, a community, goes a long way toward happiness.

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