photo: Eddy van Wessel
Saturday, August 17, 2013
Deserve the trust
The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them, said the British writer Ernest Hemingway.
When I read the line on Facebook, it reminded me of one of the most striking differences between Kurdistan and the West.
When a Westerner meets someone, he gives him the benefit of the doubt. He starts by putting his trust in him (or her). Sometimes, people break the trust and show they do not deserve it. Then the Westerner breaks the bond, or just makes sure he does not give this person any information or position that he or she may misuse.
That is the opposite from what happens in Kurdistan and the Middle East. Here, you have to earn the trust. Nobody trusts the other to start with. But once you earn the trust, you will be considered a part of the family.
When you break this trust, beware. Where the Westerner will shrug and accept, and strike the person off his list, the Kurd will take any breach of trust as a personal attack. In the best case, he will seek revenge, by warning others against the former friend, or he even try to ruin his or her reputation. In the worst case, it could lead to the use of violence.
This difference has big consequences for the way Kurds and Westerners communicate. When Westerners do business, they start by trusting until they are let down. But doing business in Kurdistan takes time, because the Kurdish business partner first wants to see if he can trust the Westerner. Once he does, all doors will open, but it takes a bit longer to reach this point.
Between people, more or less the same happens. Which means that a Westerner has to invest more time and energy into building a real friendship with a Kurd. That must be one of the reasons why I see many of the new expats in Erbil turning to each other for company. I hear they are disappointed; looking at relationships with their western eyes. They do not know that Kurdish friends you have to deserve.
Where does the difference come from? Does it have a religious background, or only a cultural one? Is there a relation with the distrust injected into the society by Saddam Hussein, when people were spying on each other and giving information to the enemy? Or is it that the Kurds were let down too often by the international community?
Yet trust is what the world gets build on. Positive energy helps to move forward, negative energy leads to demolition. But I am sure the differences between the Kurd and the Westerner can be overcome easily. As long as both try to understand and discuss them.