There is a venerable phrase many of us have heard countless times in our lives:
Doveryai, no proveryai.
Or if your Russian is a little bit rusty, Trust, but verify.
It’s an old proverb American writer Suzanne Massie passed on to Ronald Reagan before he began traveling to Russia to discuss U.S. and Soviet relations during his presidency.
It became for him somewhat of a trademark phrase.
It became a lodestar for many of us, a crutch for a few, but sage advice for all.
A week ago, my hound, Haggis, had none of the typical skepticism that normally washes across his face unless spotting a jar of peanut butter, his leash, or the hind leg of a freshly shot deer in my hands. But this was because he could no longer spot anything.
Literally. His hair had grown to a length where it could serve as an emergency ladder should he be close to a second story window and we had a fire.
So, when he finally heard the hair-raising snippets of my hair-cutting scissors, that skepticism shifted straight into suspicion and finally parked itself at defiance.
I had never cut his locks before, and he believed it was best if we left it that way.
Today, we find a great swath of our population experiencing a crisis of trust.
And why is that? The reasons are many. Understanding them is paramount and will likely shift the way we think, plan, behave, and move forward.
Together, this globe is redefining what life upon this planet is like. We are forced to assess our work, our relationships, our lifestyles, and the unforeseen shape they will morph into down the road.
Over the next several days I employ great determination during my time of internationally urged self-isolation to convince myself and my great hairy hound that I can accomplish the Herculean task of carving through his shrubby mane in the same way most of my fellow humans try to muddle their way through the maze of subterfuge, pretext, and great gobs of misinformation clouding our sight of the truth.
Daily, I place him in an unnatural position and beg him to be still as I scissor away for the space of an hour. I listen to the news: the practitioners, pundits, the press, and the president—each one with a decreasing sense of belief.
I feel Haggis tremble beneath the sound of sharp shears, and I put the scissors down and soothe him with all the ridiculous cooing tones meant to bring forth some ease. But I echo his same tiny twitch of skin when I’ve nipped him with the tip, or when they broadcast some new tally.
Every day certain numbers shoot up, and others slide down. We are warned by some and encouraged by others. Who do we trust? Who should we trust?
With boastful reassurance, I tell Haggis that he’s going to look fine—don’t gaze in the mirror, don’t question my actions, don’t think about it too hard. Trust me.
Each afternoon I hear about people who have heeded and those who’ve just balked. About those who have saved lives and those who have risked them. I wonder if, when this is all over, and I’m face to face with strangers, will I look at them with a fresh question: can I trust you?
And each afternoon I stand from my work, look at the dog, take a deep breath, and exhale with despair.
Good lord, what a mess. I’ve never done this before. And clearly it shows.
I fill him with flattery and maudlin praise, hoping he can’t see through my bluster and swash. But he feels my inexperience. And he knows that whatever my actions, I’ll not feel them as keenly as he does. He discovers at some point—day four or day five—that I’m frustrated with this routine, I’m wishing it over, and I’m unhappy with the results.
But he also knows that there’s no turning back, and this is where his lack of trust in my skills begins to crystallize into disregard.
I am somewhat offended as each day he pulls away from me, refusing to hand me a hoof or his chin.
You’re going to slow.
You’ve made a right mess.
Look here, now I bleed.
I hear him.
I should have left this up to the professionals. Although this is not a choice. We work with what we have, and a large team of experts does not appear at my door.
Each day I scooch the hound outside, toward the mile-long stretch of road between us and the mailbox. I keep my fingers crossed, hoping no one sees as we walk along. Haggis is only mid-way through this pruning, sporting a thick Mohawk down the length of his back, a mop-head, and four legs that are shaved only three-quarters down, making it appear that he is a belligerent teen prancing about in dog-friendly Uggs.
A neighbor stops his truck and rolls his window down slowly. He eyes the two of us with suspicion.
Has he got the virus?
No, I answer. He’s in the middle of a haircut.
Looks like he’s got the virus.
It does my ego and my confidence no favors to receive yet more criticism, and I mope the rest of the way home.
But tomorrow comes, and after convincing Haggis to climb atop the coffee table/barber’s chair once more, I ask myself a critical self-esteem building question:
What would Vidal Sassoon do?
It’s true—it’s not particularly hashtag worthy, but it seemed relatively uplifting for the moment.
And when one is on one’s own, navigating uncharted waters and expecting choppy results, one will search for signs of inspiration, direction, and security wherever one may find it.
(I’m lookin’ at you Dr. Fauci …)
We muddle through and trudge along. We rise to the occasion and make a small difference.
We find places to put our faith: in facts, in evidence, in one another.
And until we emerge on the other side, knackered, shaggy, and injured, we offer kindness if not confidence.
A spoonful of peanut butter can go a long, long way.
Surely the Russians knew that.
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