August 8, 2020
Trust - A Commodity In Short Supply
I suggest that a feeling of trust is essential to functioning in the world. You trust that the majority of cars will stop at a red light. You believe that every person walking past you on the street isn't carrying a gun intending to do you bodily harm (maybe not the best example). You trust that your dog will greet you warmly when you come home.
Trust is really the linchpin of how we operate. But, recent events in the world and certain survey results have called that statement into question. I wonder if we are moving into a time where some of the assumptions we make are no longer quite as valid.
The fake news narrative, the constant barrage of outright lies, misstatements, or purposely misleading conclusions have had their effect. A 2019 Pew Center study tells us that only 17% of Americans trust the government to do the right thing all or most of the time. That is the lowest figure in the last half-century.
During the Watergate scandal, the era near the end of our involvement in Vietnam, and the period during the financial and economic collapse of 2008-2009 distressingly low scores occurred. But the "trust in government" percentage has been on a steady decline since 2003.
Trust in various institutions is no better. Many folks don't expect banks, financial institutions, or the segment of society commonly known as Wall Street to play by the same rules as the rest of us. Few people think health insurance companies or drug manufacturers are bastions of honest dealings.
With the divorce rate among Baby Boomers growing more rapidly than any other age group, trust is an endangered commodity in relationships, too. A long term relationship, whether married or committed, does not last long after trust is called into question. The number of smartphone apps that can track someone else's whereabouts has increased dramatically.
Not only do parents want to know where junior is, but spouses or partners want to keep tabs on their significant other. Though supposedly requiring the permission of both parties in such an arrangement, hiding an app on a smartphone is quite easy. Divorce attorneys report a dramatic increase in the use of such apps in messy relationship breakups. Doesn't speak to much trust, does it?
If all this is accurate, what is there to do about it? Do we simply adapt to a world where trust is conditional and in short supply? Do we approach all interactions with a jaundiced eye? Do we assume everyone is not to be trusted until proven otherwise?
Writing about trust and the common good is especially tricky during the political season. The more outrageous the pronouncements and more provocative the claims, the better according to polls and media coverage. The bigger the lie, the more constant the coverage. Truth becomes disconnected from facts. Trust is a non-factor. The past several months have proven this point distressingly well.
Even so, I certainly hope that isn't our fate. I would not do well in a world where I had to distrust most everybody and everything. Even retreating behind a locked front door wouldn't stop the damage, since everything I do is connected to others in some way, even during a pandemic.
Trust is the foundation of my 44-year marriage. It is how I function with everyone from my investment advisers to the grocery store I frequent. I assume the gas station is selling me a gallon of gas for a gallon's price. I depend on the power company to read my meter correctly when determining my monthly bill. I "know" my daughters would never do anything to hurt or cheat me.
So, I guess my question is, what can any of us do to reverse this climate of distrust that seems to be much too prevalent? Or, is this a period of man's time on earth that is based on the "only the strong survive" model?
I certainly hope not, especially after we emerge from the pandemic and crushed economy. We will need each other more than ever before.