In Times of Uncertainty
Trust among people is precious, just like the oxygen we breathe. Our future depends on it. Some people may take trust for granted and even abuse it, but we all learn the full extent of the loss and the enormous difficulties in bringing it back when it’s gone.
In my book BIG FIXES: Building Bridges to an Inclusive Future, I use infrastructure (the provision of public assets and services like hospitals, roads, bridges and water systems) as a prop to open up a conversation about the future. I argue everything relies on ‘earning trust’ and keeping society hinged to it.
But the problem is trust is disappearing as a force for good, and we need to fix it fast. That is where sled dogs and their musher come into the picture. Because I think they can inspire us and build a deeper understanding of what trust means, especially in times of great uncertainty like COVID. Here is an excerpt from Chapter 1 of BIG FIXES.
A Musher’s Masterclass
Blair Braverman* is now a famous author and ‘musher’, a human driver of a sled dog team that races across the Arctic. She says that her dogs know many things she does not. For example, they know if a storm is coming or if a moose crossed the trail days before. Every time the dogs hit the trail, they run hard, giving it everything they’ve got without knowing if the race is 10 miles or 100 miles.
Braverman has learned the importance in long races the need to front-load rest. You’re four hours into a four-day race, and the dogs are charging down the trail, leaning into their momentum, barely getting started — and then, despite their enthusiasm, it’s time to stop. The dogs might not even sit down; they’re howling, antsy to keep going. It doesn’t matter. You rest. Four hours later, you rest again because it’s far easier to prevent fatigue in the dogs than it is to recover from it later.
Resting early, anticipating your dogs’ needs, does something even more important than that, says Braverman: it builds trust. For example, a sled dog learns that by the time she’s hungry, her musher has already prepared a meal; by the time she’s tired, she has a warm bed. If she’s cold, you have a coat or blanket for her; if she’s thirsty, you have water. And it’s this security, this trust, that lets her pour herself into the journey, give the trail everything she has without worrying about what comes next. But if she knows you’ve got her back, she’ll run because she wants to, because she burns too, and she’ll bring you along for the ride.
Infrastructure Mushers Needed
We, too, need to know that our institutions have got our back in the human world. We run our unique races in life, focussed and energised to achieve what we choose. We expect the people charged with keeping our towns, cities, and the nation we live and work in – safe and productive – that they are doing their job!
While the rest of us are investing, running businesses, getting educated and growing families and communities, we can do this without worrying about the detail of keeping essential systems going. Transport, energy, water and waste, schools and hospitals (the infrastructure) needs to work. Like there is the equivalent of a sled dog musher taking care of things so you and I can get on with living, contributing to society and making a decent living for our efforts.
The infrastructure musher (if you like) must have our back when loved ones fall ill there are hospitals and medical attention at the ready. When a business learns, it must pivot to a new product or service; managers are confident they can access new pools of talented workers thanks to excellent land use planning ensuring vibrant neighbourhoods and educational facilities. If a start-up is hungry for more data, it has broadband connectivity to manage mega data transfer upstream and downstream around the globe. As environmental accountabilities grow, organisations know they can access sustainable energy low carbon transport services and provide education and childcare services to support social inclusion and diverse teams. All these are vital ingredients to success beyond most organisations’ front gate.
Custodians of Trust
There is an enormous trust that those responsible for public services, especially infrastructure planners, owners and operators, are doing their job well. Policymakers and regulators are looking ahead, listening to people and businesses, understanding what is essential to success and having the conviction to ensure economic and social opportunities prosper and not peter out from fatigue and frustration.
The better authorities do these services, the better the rest of us can be innovative, productive, and responsible in contributing to our wellbeing and a better society.
When that happens, not only do we live better, we build trust!
* Blair Braverman, Welcome to the Goddam Ice Cube. Chasing Fear and Finding Home in the Great North. March 2017