A Story About the Fickle Nature of Trust
Imagine you own a house on Earth, and you rent out some of the rooms for income. And I say Earth because the setting is a number of years in the future, a time where we have commercialized long-distance space travel, and some of the people who rent your rooms are from other planets. You have Bob from Planet Balboa, Mary from Planet Minotaur (along with her husband and kids), and Tom from Planet Tigris (along with his wife).
Tom, the youngest, has spent almost the entirety of his life on Earth (all but eleven months) and doesn’t remember life anywhere else. He never even learned to speak the Tigrinese language, just Earthspeak. He works at a tech company making holographic monitors and loves his job. He is married to Tilda who is currently back home at Planet Tigris visiting her parents and is scheduled to fly back home to Earth tomorrow morning. They actually met on Planet Tigris two years ago while Tom was back visiting some extended family. Tom has been a citizen of Earth since he was a child, but Tilda is not yet.
Bob from Planet Balboa is a rather quiet fellow. He has no family on Earth. Most everyone he’s close to, his family and friends, still live on Planet Balboa. He’s simply come to Earth for the work because it pays better. He’s a spacecraft engineering contractor, and Earth recruited him after he helped develop new propulsion technologies that increased flight speeds by 150%. He’s been on Earth for fifteen years, a dutiful employee, a model tenant, and travels back to Planet Balboa a couple of times a year to visit and show them some trinkets from the planet that has become his second home. He isn’t a citizen, but he has a work visa.
Mary grew up on Planet Minotaur, but at age twenty-five she got restless and wanted to explore. Space travel was finally becoming affordable for the middle class (in part due to the technology Bob helped design, which also dramatically reduced fuel costs), and Earth was offering a few spots for grad students to come through foreign exchange programs. She fell in love with Earth, married an Earthly man, and had a few kids (who are currently on a ship back from Planet Minotaur where they were visiting grandma). She’s a teacher at the school down the street from your house and has been a citizen of Earth for many years.
Everyone had always gotten along well in the house, but in the last few months you’ve started reading in the newspaper about a rise in reported cases of “crimestuff” (general Earthspeak for illegal activities) on Planet Tigris. Later you see on TV that Planet Balboa is reporting similar increases in crimestuff. Some of the acts were even committed on foreign planets as the criminals hopped around the galaxy on their crime sprees. You start to worry about the safety of your house on Earth.
That night you decide to draft up a rule stating that no people traveling from either Planet Tigris or Planet Balboa are allowed to come into your house anymore, no questions asked. It’s too risky, and you’re going to make damn sure your house is secure. In other words, better safe than sorry. After drafting the rule, you tape it on the doors of your residents and head to bed. Simple as that! Now you can sleep soundly.
In the morning, you are awoken by rather firm knocks on the door. You leap out of bed, throw on your robe, and open the door. Your residents are there with aggressively inquisitive looks on their faces.
Mary starts in, “Why are you restricting people from coming into the house?” she says.
“Well haven’t you read the news? People from Planet Balboa and Planet Tigris are committing crimestuffs, so I don’t want them to come here,” you say.
“What’s new?” Bob quips. “The universe may be closing in on utopia, but we’ve got work to do.”
“Well this just happened, and it doesn’t sound good,” you reason. “I have a bad feeling about those planets.”
“Excuse me?” says Bob, starting to become a bit defensive.
“Well, not you, of course.”
“But aren’t there people from Earth that commit crimestuffs too?” Mary asks?
“Well yes, probably,” you respond “but they are citizens of Earth. Besides, I’m sure local authorities are doing everything necessary to…”
Bob quickly interrupts, “Wait, I’m going back to Planet Balboa next month for vacation…certainly I can at least come back afterwards, right?”
For a moment you realize you may not have thought things through when you drafted that rule. Clearly you trust Bob, and you wouldn’t have any issues with him traveling and returning, but you’d have to admit you made an oversight on the rule. You decide to stick to your guns. “No, I’m afraid you wouldn’t, Bob. I’m truly sorry, but safety of the house takes priority here. It is a privilege of yours to live here, not a right, and the universe is a scary place right now.”
“You know,” says Bob “maybe my friends were right about this place. I’ve tried to tell them it’s different…they’re nice, they’re welcoming…yet they kept warning me I was wrong. Consider this my notice to move out. My friends are going to love hearing this.”
“But, Bob!” you cry out after him as he turns to walk away. “We are a compassionate society here on Earth. We’ve done great things for you, and we’re going to continue to, and this rule is designed for your safety!”
“But I’m not afraid!” says Bob. “I don’t want this rule! I want to be able to travel and know that I can come back to my home!”
Just then young Tom, who’s been silently listening thus far, comes to a realization, “Oh my! Tilda! My lovely wife Tilda! She’s flying back on the ship as we speak! Can we let her in when she gets back?”
Now you’re really starting to get uncomfortable, but you decide you can’t back down. “I’m afraid not, Tom. It’s my duty to keep you safe, even if that means…not letting your wife back into her house.”
“You can’t be serious?!” says Tom. “What is she supposed to do?!”
“Well, she’ll have to remain at the space station until all this blows over. If I decide things get safer, then I will let her back in.”
“If YOU decide?!” shouts Mary.
“But she LIVES here!” Tom exclaims, starting to get a little hysterical.
“It’s a small price to pay for safety, I’m afraid. You seem to be very ungrateful for the measures I am taking on your behalf.”
Mary, not directly affected by the rule but concerned for the precedent it sets, inserts herself, “Can’t we just make exceptions for the ones we know and trust, especially the ones who already have rental agreements that say they are allowed to live here?”
“I’m sorry, Mary, we can’t take any chances. Any one of them could be capable of crimestuffs, and I won’t subject us to that possibility.”
“Even Tom’s wife Tilda?! Or what about little children?! My kids are back at Planet Minotaur with their grandma right now, ages three and five. Are you saying that if they were on one of those other planets right now, they wouldn’t be allowed back in either?!”
“Mary, please, don’t be silly…the rule doesn’t affect your planet.”
“But what if it did?!”
“Well, then they wouldn’t be allowed back either. We have to be safe. YOU have to be safe.”
“What could they possibly do to hurt you; they’re just kids?!” argues Mary as she plops down on the hallway sofa, dumbfounded as ever.
“I don’t know, and that’s just the issue. We value safety and certainty here.”
“But Earthlings did some crimestuffs to other Earthlings yesterday,” reminds Mary. “I saw it on the news. Are you just never going to let anyone back into the house?”
“Well certainly we can let Earthlings in the house. We can let in people we trust.”
“Are you saying you don’t trust ME!” Bob retorts.
“I do, Bob, but other people in your country have done some bad things, and I don’t want them to do bad things here.”
“But they aren’t me,” yells Bob, moving in closer by the moment. “They are just people who happen to live on the same hunk of rock that I do. I don’t like those people either. I think they’re awful. But you have a handful of awful people here on Earth too, all planets do.”
“Why didn’t you at least ask us about this or warn us about this before putting it in place?” asks Mary as she attempts to calm back down and reason.
“Well, if word got out that I was going to close the doors, then bad people may have tried to come in really quick before the rule was in place, so in order to keep you safe, I had to act immediately without anyone knowing,” you reply, continuing to defend.
“IF WORD GOT OUT?!” Mary yells, failing at attempts to calm down and springing back out of the couch the way she might have flung herself off a swingset at a much earlier age. “Are you saying one of us might have deliberately tipped off the (air quotes) bad people (end air quotes) on one of those other planets and deliberately tried to get them into this house before the rule started?! And to do what, exactly? Do you not trust us either?!”
“Mary, of course I trust you, but I’m trying to keep you safe. I’m the owner, and I can take these measures if it’s in your best interest.”
“I think I’ll decide what’s in my own best interest, thank you very much!” yells Tom as he asserts himself back into the argument. “It’s in my best interest that my wife comes home!”
“And you don’t feel the need to consult with anyone on such matters?!” Bob questions, sounding rather disillusioned.
“Sometimes things are too important to consult with others. You just have to act.”
The next day Bob gathers his things and heads back to Planet Balboa. Upon arrival his friends greet him with a load of “I told you so,” and he, in turn, blows off the steam and holds little back about his opinion of his former landlord. Over the next few hours a mixture of anger and cheap alcohol elevates the conversation to an unnerving level of intensity.
“You know,” one of Bob’s friends offers “a buddy of mine is still over on Earth. He’s been suspicious of them too. I bet we could…”
“No,” Bob interrupts “but I know this much, everyone here on Planet Balboa is going to know how awful that house is. That whole planet is probably just as awful. They can find someone else to help them with their spacecraft.”
“Okay, well if you ever want to take things up a notch…I think they deserve what they got commin’ to ‘em! I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty.”
Tom’s wife Tilda finally returns to the house three days later. Tom is already waiting outside for her with their possessions. They don’t know where they’re going yet; they just know they’re leaving. As it turns out, the judge wouldn’t allow a tenant to be locked out of her home, despite whatever orders a landlord may issue, but after three days of sleeping in the space station, she didn’t much care to go back. Neither did Tom wish to stay. They have five months remaining on the lease, but the judge relieves them of their duty to pay.
Mary and her husband remain in the house while the other two rooms stand vacant for months. They like being close to the school where Mary teaches. It’s hard to get a great read on her feelings towards you and the house, but she continues to pay the rent nonetheless. Her most recent Tweet reads “Can still love a planet and people while disagreeing with policy. There are always pockets of good. #galaxytravelerforever.”
The next day, alone in your house, you see a headline roll across the bottom of your TV screen. It reads “Four Earthlings arrested for crimestuffs committed at 208 South Ocean Ave.” The house is that of your neighbor a block away. You check your TripAdvisor ratings and see a rather unflattering review by an anonymous tenant from Planet Balboa, your rating down a full point since last you checked. You dim the lights and eventually drift off to sleep knowing only a couple of things for certain: so far, your house is safe…and two of your rooms are empty.