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What Is The One Thing You Can Control When Institutions Collapse?
Lessons from Lebanon’s banking and government fallout
It was past sundown when I stepped out the door of the Beirut airport. The urban darkness took me by surprise. I had expected to see lit buildings and bustling people in the early evening hours of a major multicultural city. The reality began to sink in. My experience of time shifted out of the present, jolting me into a bizarre form of anxiety. I felt a doomed sense of what might be ahead.
I was aware Lebanon had been increasingly struggling since 2019. Yet, I didn’t grok the severity of it until I was immersed in Beirut. The sudden collapse of the electrical grid offered a reflection of humanity’s darkness, the country swirling in layers of corruption. Phrases such as “the generator mafia” and “fresh money” dropped me into the eerie strata of real-life dystopian horror. Part of the horror involved reckoning with how this strata I was visiting was the everyday reality for the Lebanese and held a looming sense it was only worsening.
The prosperous residue of “The Switzerland of the Middle East” was lingering in scarce places among the buildings and streets, offering hints of a city once maintained and cared for. A continual devolution into chaos and violence seemed inevitable. I was also slowly accepting how security is ultimately an illusion and how no country is immune to corruption. I was vulnerable to the fear state, feeling it flood my body with anxious despair.
I wonder relentlessly about the process of trust. What does it mean to trust someone? What does it mean to trust oneself? How is trust destroyed? How can trust be rebuilt to be stronger than it was before a rupture? What does this mean within one’s self, in relationships, in team dynamics, and in the context of an entire country?
It’s been my experience thus far that the more I engage in the visceral and revelatory process of learning to trust myself, the more I am able to recognize when, how, and where to trust others in the external world. This is inclusive of feeling into the entire multi-sensory environment in which I am embedded. It’s not just about trusting intuitive decisions about others but also trusting intuitive movements that come pulsing through my body’s actions. I lean into inquiries such as: Do I trust what my body is telling me? Do I trust what is coming through my expression? Do I trust myself to maintain boundaries of self-respect? To speak to my direct experience? To uphold a balance of self-love while also communicating the yeses and nos while navigating life’s mysterious and continual decisions? Can I learn from my mistakes as a way to build further trust in myself?
Pattern recognition from the micro to macro and macro to micro captivates me. While in Lebanon, I was riding in the car with a Lebanese friend, who was serving as a local guide and asking him questions.
“Do you trust your friends here?”
“No,” he replied. “I only trust my wife now. No one else.”
“Do you trust yourself?”
“No. I don’t trust my own hands anymore.”
His response struck me. In reflection, I realized that I generally trust my own hands. My hands serve my desires and needs while their movements work in accordance with my values. The ways I struggle with trusting myself include doubting my capacities, eating too much sugar, or many other smaller ways that don’t disrupt the general consistency of my integrity. Most of the time though, I feel my hands in service of honesty, creativity, and humanity in an interdependent world. What would it take for me to stop trusting my own hands?
What situational context would bring me to the point where I would compromise my values to choose survival over compassion?
According to WorldData.info the inflation rate in Lebanon has skyrocketed, “During the observation period from 2009 to 2021, the average inflation rate was 22.7% per year. Overall, the price increase was 544.36%. An item that cost 100 pounds in 2009 cost 644.36 pounds at the beginning of 2022.” The UN tracks that “...the multidimensional poverty rate in Lebanon has nearly doubled from 42% in 2019 to 82% in 2021.” At this point in our global society, the linkages between basic human needs, living conditions, reliable jobs, food scarcity, and ultimately, trust within communities are deeply entangled with the state of economic growth and inflation rates.
In Lebanon, the economic crisis is a tragic byproduct that reveals institutional decay. The details of exactly how this happened remain somewhat mysterious, but regardless of the hidden behaviors, every local I spoke to agreed that the majority of the Lebanese government, banks, and leadership have lost their trust.
I thought back to my Lebanese friends’ comment, “I don’t trust my own hands anymore.” He was embedded in an environment in which relationships had not only been reduced to a series of transactions but also those transactions were riddled with risk.
His survival needs were beginning to bring the embodiment of his values into question.
What can we do when we find ourselves in situations where we’re tempted to betray ourselves? How can we reclaim the power of our own inner guide even when the environment feels oppressive, insurmountable, and profoundly depressing? How does one remember their humanity and hope amidst the deepest phases of despair? What role might forgiveness, reconciliation, and the reclamation of our own human dignity play in the creation of societies where people can trust each other?
If we are to work towards maintaining and/or rebuilding trust within our local communities, teams, countries, and families, these questions are worth deep inquiry.
The fate of the social order is malleable and we’re active agents in shaping the trajectory.
The fragmentation of our conscience extends into the fragmentation of our families. When demands for survival begin to outweigh our conscience this brings us an opportunity. As someone who has not lived through a sudden and total collapse of trust in all institutional infrastructures, I am aware this perspective can seem unrealistic. However, it’s my deepest intuition that aligning on a pathway that brings us increasing glimmers of humanity’s beauty, generosity, and integrity comes from recognizing that we have agency over our inner states of being, despite increasingly demanding external conditions. This involves leveraging this agency to compassionately serve those around us despite the temptations that scarcity dangles before us. As we engage in such improbable behaviors, we can inspire humanity in those around us. Collectively organizing for broader societal transformation can be the aggregation of such ripples.
The research outlined in the article, The '3.5% rule': How a small minority can change the world, suggests that if a community can gather at least 3.5% of their population in active support of the nonviolent protest, then there is a significant probability it will achieve real transformative change as a result of the aggregate efforts. The research shares, “In 1986, millions of Filipinos took to the streets of Manila in peaceful protest and prayer in the People Power movement. The Marcos regime folded on the fourth day. In 2003, the people of Georgia ousted Eduard Shevardnadze through the bloodless Rose Revolution, in which protestors stormed the parliament building holding the flowers in their hands. While in 2019, the presidents of Sudan and Algeria both announced they would step aside after decades in office, thanks to peaceful campaigns of resistance.” While these examples may seem few and far between, the stories do point to an opportunity that is worth a chance when all other options appear to be succumbing to destitution or resorting to violence.
As waves of prosperity fluctuate with waves of collapse throughout societies, what impact will you have along the way and how willing are you to maintain trust in your own hands?
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