Confidence and Trust

Guard Rail


Obviously, guard rails are intended to keep cars from running off the road and to reduce the severity of injuries when they do. Not so obvious is the observation that their presence indicates a lack of trust. Appropriately so. Bad accidents, even death, may have occurred had we trusted—ourselves and “the other guy.” This image reminds me that, because human beings cannot be trusted, safeguards are necessary, increasingly so in proportion to the level of distrust, which in highly mobile societies increases with population density and social complexity. Without safeguards the odds of breakdown increase as more people are on the road with more distractions.

At the same time, the presence of guard rails on roadsides generates trust. These metal barriers actually have served their purpose. Systemically speaking, they are “syntropic.” They reduce the effects of entropy, which is the tendency of systems to dissipate heat. In other words, break down. In the case of a highway system, entropy amounts to the dis-integration of roadway integrity. If entropy goes unchecked by safeguards such as improvements in the areas of car design, road maintenance, guards and signage, more and more severe accidents will occur. The many innovations, requirements and regulations surrounding car and passenger safety are prime examples of how syntropy reduces the frequency and severity of mayhem and catastrophe.

I reflect on the human body, mind and spirit, which are equally susceptible to the forces of entropy—from tooth decay to depression. At base, advertisers are in the business of selling syntropy: products and services that help prevent, retard, manage or eliminate the effects of entropy. (In living systems, 100% entropy equates with death. Maximum equilibrium). So to gain more confidence in the components of our personal and social lives, ultimately to increase their  health and well-being, regulation is essential. A social example is the national economy. It’s heavily regulated, not so the few can disadvantage the many, but to insure stability and increase public confidence, which directly influences the nation’s health and well-being.

The word “regulation” in some spheres—mine was the broadcast television industry—has been seen as a threat to individual liberty. “Don’t tell me how to run my business.” Whether the social unit is a family, church congregation, community, business, corporation, nation or the global family, without regulation entropy will inexorably result in more and more severe breakdowns. Systemically speaking, zero regulation equates with no growth. Such an entity would completely dis-integrate if nothing is done to reign in the propensity to act solely in its own self interest and preservation. Socially, the free flow of entropy is enhanced when the members of a system act primarily in their own interest (in some instances justifying it as a “right”), as if their health and well-being are independent of the other members of the system. It’s not. Never was, never will be because we are social beings, interconnected and interdependent physically, emotionally and  economically. Independence is both an illusion and an entropic idea.

I tend to see systemic breakdowns, in part, as the impetus for breakthroughs. Futurist and author, Barbara Marx Hubbard, observes that “Crisis precedes transformation.” As indications of breakdown, crises signal that change is coming. Sometimes, personally and socially, we need to experience what doesn’t work in order to rethink and redesign the system so it does work—like a  highway system with guardrails, seat belts and back-up cameras. Learning through breakdowns eventually contributes to breakthroughs and resilience.

Trouble is, getting to that point can take a lot of breakdown over a long time. The ideal would be to recognize the patterns as breakdowns increase so the system can affect a shift to a more viable paradigm or behavior before the system reaches the point of crisis. As we have seen politically in the past decade, the rigid clinging to ideas and ideologies including stubbornness at all levels does nothing to retard the escalating breakdowns while debate continues.



If ten people walk beyond civilization and build a new sort of life for themselves, then those ten people are already living in the next paradigm, from the first day.

             Daniel Quinn


About The Image


Guard Rail

Theme: Confidence & Trust

File #: DC5711

Intersection of U.S. 68 & U.S. 73

Wilmington, Ohio

March 7, 2013


Snowstorms often call me out with a camera. On this occasion I did an overnight because the heavier snowfall was about forty miles north of us. I was just cruising, looking for something to photograph when I came to a stoplight at an intersection. While waiting I noticed how the guardrail divided the bright sky and white snow with a nice clean line.

Since one of my constant visual quests is to find or create simplicity, the fewest number of visual elements within a frame, I backed up the car, put it in “park” with the emergency lights blinking, got the camera and ran about thirty yards hoping the police would not come.

They didn’t. I hand-held several shots, each with the guardrail at a different position in the frame. This is the one I like best because there’s just a hint of snow and the immensity of the sky diminishes the man-made object. With no other objects in the frame, the rail provides some evidence of where we are as a society. Metaphorically and physically.

© Copyright, David L. Smith, 2014. The images and the associated contemplations on this site are protected against any and all commercial and promotional use without the permission of  the author. However, permission is granted for individuals to download the images and print them for private, non-commercial, non-promotional use.









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