Monday, November 21, 2011


Today, a girl in our class pulled out an X-acto knife in class because she needed it for a project. In the United States, this would never happen; X-acto knives are on the list of contraband items for school there. But here it's pretty normal. As a friend of mine said today when I asked about the knife, "In America you'd use the knife to kill people. Here, we use it to cut boards! And you call us terrorists!"* Although she was joking around of course, that got me to thinking-- would Americans actually use an X-acto knife to kill someone?

Probably not. Most people who use X-acto knives use them the same way Omanis use them--to cut boards. That's why they're made. But the difference between Oman and America in this scenario is trust. Americans tend to not trust people they first meet. Omanis, on the other hand, are inclined to trust on the firsthand rather than distrust. This is a trait I admire. You can't be sure about a person until you get to know them, so, in my opinion, it's better to give people the benefit of the doubt. Believe in the fundamental goodness of human beings. Yes, you will get a few crazy people, but it shouldn't deter from the fact that most people are not out to sabotage things for others. They're just there to get along and go about their business.

In the scenario with the X-acto knife, I could really see that trust come out. The people in charge of the school haven't had a reason to have to ban X-acto knives, so why should they? Basically, this is a scenario of pessimism v. optimism.
I actually remember having a conversation about this with a man I met on an airplane last March. I was flying from Denver, at the YES selection event, to Chicago. Really, this was the first big step on my way here to Oman. This man, whose name I do not know, and I discussed this matter of trust. He seemed to take the pessimistic approach, in thinking that trust was not something to be given out. Today, in my reflections over the X-acto knife, I remembered this conversation and a few more. The moment a few weeks ago when I was at the UAE border with my host family, and they only needed to see that there was a girl (not Omani) in the car, but not my face. They trusted that my host family was not merely smuggling someone into the country. In this case, it was me who took the pessimistic view of trust. I knew we weren't lying about who I was, but didn't they want to check? Didn't they want to make sure that I was the girl on the ID, and maybe get my signature on top of that? Then there are the times when, at the school canteen, students can just put money down and walk away with their purchases. I always try to make sure to hand my money to the men manning the stand, because I want them to know that I'm not being dishonest, but the truth here is that it doesn't really matter, because they trust that I won't steal.

 If I were to do something to lose that trust, it would be hard to regain, but I'm on the honor system here. If you stay on the right path, there will be no reason to distrust you. And it seems, for the most part, to be pretty effective in this society.

If the world is going to ever get along, we're going to have to take the optimistic route. Use the honor system. Trust people. Because if we trust them, they'll trust us.

*by the way, I'd like to point out that this girl doesn't hate America, and she really was joking, not trying to make a true derogatory comment. She was a YES student, actually. 


  1. You are so right. At the center of all is trust Trust is what we all need to learn.

    I just met your Mom and younger sister yesterday because they come over to help my daughter. Your Mom and my daughter work together.

    I will follow your blog. This is a great way to learn about a different culture.

  2. Hi Emma.I have been following your blog which I love. We are an American family living in Muscat and I was wondering if your YES program allows you to celebrate Thanksgiving? We know what is it like to live far from home especially in the holidays. If you have nothing planned our family (kids 12, 10 & 7!) would love to have you and any other YES scholars to have a Thanksgiving dinner with us? We have worked with exchange students in the USA before so we know sometimes you are not able to do things outside your host family unit-but if you are, you are most welcome! Louise (