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  • John Ryan

Day 5: thoughts on human connection and trust

(Photo 1: Reuniting with long-time friend and fellow Elon University alum Elisson Adrien. This bright young man, along with Ernso , Elkins, and others have conducted research with me during undergraduate, master's, and now doctoral research. Also, he was one of the best dancers at Roxana and my wedding).

Monday, 19 February 2018

This week, I’ve been reminded of and taught new things about the importance of human connections. Specifically, I have focused on friendships, mutual trust, and respect. In the United States, that is not always prized, and it can be difficult to achieve from time to time. In Haiti, I cannot ignore its importance, especially as an outsider. Likewise, I am recognizing how valued individual self-sufficiency is in the United States. We replay stories of sports stars that worked up from the bottom and businessmen that claim to have made an empire with their entrepreneurial spirit, leading themselves to success. Sure, this is not the story of everyone in the U.S., and the contrary value system is not the universal for everyone in Haiti. It is just an observation of the commonplace systems from my perspective in two places.

Yesterday, for example, my journey would not have been possible by myself. I relied on others whom I trusted. That is often the case in Haiti, where the relationally-void social safety nets of the United States do not exist. Here, there are no credit unions, house insurance, or welfare. Life requires bonds with others. People help another in times of need and to are helped when the time comes. This is not just a functional obligation, but a value system interwoven into the fabric of life.

I wonder what this type of system does for the human spirit. If people can persist without the help of others with which they have an interpersonal exchange, do they lose part of the richness of life? Or, am I romanticizing a system I do not fully understand at this point and may never understand as an outsider?

All I know is I am finding joy in my connecting with others to exchange both needs and blessings. I think of my dear friends Ernso and Elisson. For nearly a decade, they have helped me with travel, translation, meeting new people, preventing the more egregious cultural mistakes, and anything else that life in Haiti may bring. I have trusted them with my life, both figuratively and literally, on many occasions. I trust them with possessions and through my relationships with others.

It is an ineffable gift to trust someone well enough that I never have to question their intentions.

At times, I have paid these men for interpreting services at well under the appropriate price, including by local standards. At other times, I have been blessed with the means to pay more. Still, I have had times where I could bring nothing but friendship. And that was enough. I hope to continue seeking out those who I can trust fully, and to be that person to others.

There is a proverb (American? German?) that “opportunity makes thieves of us all.” As in, given the chance, people will steal if it is really easy. I don’t think that is true. I think there are people who don’t steal… there are bonds, values, and people that would rather do good, that would rather help others and gain simply friendship or God’s graces of just a continuing moral fortitude instead of taking what they can. This includes avoiding grey areas, as in giving an unfair price or taking a little extra.

Maybe we can choose relationships over things and values over short gain. Watching others that do so more than I, it appears that other blessings will follow… especially friendship and joy.

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