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.

31 comments:

  1. The growing lack of trust we have in our government and institutional is the scariest to me. To feel safe in a dangerous world I guess I at least need the illusion that our country operates for the greater good. But hashing out our difference to find a compromise is no longer the goal in are partisan nation where what divides us just gets deeper and deeper.

    I'm not worried about trust in marriages because I----right or wrong---don't think the growing divorce rate for the Baby Boomers is setting a trend for generations to come as they get older. My peer age group got married for different reasons than those getting married today. We didn't know each other as well as young couple do now and many of us got married because it was expected of us. In college I dated a guy who unbeknown to me was deep in the closet and had I married him when he asked we'd have been one of those Baby Boomer divorces because he never came out of the closet until after him mother died. There is more opportunities to cheat now than back when women didn't work outside the home, but couples now have a more equal partnership than a lot of couples in my peer age group.

    Those apps for keeping track of other family members are kind of creepy, aren't they. I have a young friend who can pull up his app and see where 14 members of his family are---kids, grandkids. They all know he can track them and only one of his daughter-in-laws has asked him to take her off. In his case it's not a question of not trusting them but rather he views it as protecting them should something bad happen.

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    1. You make A good point about divorce. Our generation, and certainly the ones before us, saw marriage as the only real path for young men and women, even if that was not the best choice for either. Today, young adults are much more willing to wait and really figure out what it best for them. The acceptance of remaining single has increased dramatically, which is a good thing.

      The tracking app: I would have no problem using it for children. It can be a dangerous world. But once someone graduates from high school, that person deserves privacy. There is enough snooping going on by software and government people. Parents shouldn't add to the problem.

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  2. Bellum omnium contra omnes. I hope not, but we'll see.

    It can happen here.

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    1. "The war of all against all" is a summation of human existence by philosopher Thomas Hobbs. We do seem to be moving in that direction.

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  3. I am generally a trusting person. Married 53+ years, I have full trust in my husband. I trust my children...beyond that, not so much. I have been naive enough to be shocked and hurt by people whom I trusted over the years. Including insurance agents (who went to our same church and were "friends" socially). I sometimes wonder if I "will ever learn"...as I still try to trust neighbors, shopkeepers,and so on. I don't trust our government and am appalled at the lies we are being fed, by both sides.

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    1. I am in your camp. I have complete trust in my wife and adult children. Grandkids, too, come to think of it.

      Government on all levels? Not so much. Anything coming from any politician I treat as shady until proven otherwise.

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  4. It seems to me the only way to improve trust in our nation is to be trustworthy ourselves.

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    1. ...and hold those we elect to represent us to that same standard.

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  5. Generally I trust people until I see evidence that indicates otherwise. That said, there are different levels of trust and clearly those I know well and have for many years receive a higher level of trust. With others I give them the benefit of the doubt but not too much. I guess I am cautiously trusting with people I don't know.

    Financial advisers are right up there with lawyers and used car salesmen for lacking trust yet I've been with my adviser for a long time, tracked and measured her performance over time, and I've never had any cause for concern. Surely it can't be just her.

    It's interesting about politicians. Polls show that most of us trust our locally elected official (perhaps because we know them) but mistrust "all those other lying SOBs". In our case my wife is good friends with our member of parliament. My wife met her when she was on the parent council at the local high school, our now member of parliament was another parent on the school council. One thing led to another and she was elected to parliament after being our town councilor for several years. From what we know of her she is honest, hardworking (her staff helped our Covid-19 unemployed daughter get her benefits sorted out quickly) and ended up in politics for all the right reasons. Despite their reputation I think most politicians do go into politics for the right reasons.

    I now hike with a retired federal civil servant. I don't know exactly what he did (he worked in the French-English translation department) but he was high enough up that he had encounters with various Prime Ministers and cabinet members. In general he had good things to say about all of them, even those he disagreed with politically. Then again he had personal contact with them to go on not just media reports.

    Clearly there are some politicians just in it for themselves (and I've seen that type in every line of work) but I think, as in every other endeavor, it's the small minority that gives the rest of them a bad reputation. I'd say get to know who you are voting for, make sure you vote, and once elected hold them accountable. The system is set up so that we can get rid of a lying cheating bad apple after a few years so at least we aren't stuck with them forever. Kind of like your financial advisor, lawyer, spouse and so on.

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    1. You are right: a few bad apples spoil the image for everyone. I do think the number of "bad apples" has increased for various reactions. Hyper-partisanship allows for a lot of bad behavior to be ignored. Barely half of Americans bother to vote in a typical election, meaning a motivated minority becomes the leaders. Good politicians can become corrupted over time by the power, lobbyists, and money interests. It is not human nature to be able to resist the constant siren call of all that.

      The answer? Besides the obvious need to become educated and then vote, is to stay engaged with someone after sending them to office. I am guilty of voting but then stopping all contact with that person via emails or web site comments. Letting an elected person know they are being watched, praised when needed, and castigated when they deserve it might help in keeping someone aware of his or her responsibilities.

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    2. I agree, I write my elected officials whenever I think things need attention. Sometimes I get a "talking points" canned reply but just as often I get a thoughtful reply. One thing for sure, politicians are aware that if one person writes there are 100 more that are grumbling about it but didn't write.

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  6. Despite well-founded suspicions, I trusted my husband too long. Now, I am quick to identify the untrustworthy man and get rid of him. I trust until I know better. Since I live in a small town, it is not hard to know which politicians to trust. Anyone who presents himself in any situation as a minister is automatically distrusted. AND, I am not wrong. Ex was a minister who cheated everyone. He lied about things that did not matter.

    I trust until I have reason NOT to trust.

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    1. So, you start from a position of trust until a person proves he or she doesn't deserve it. That is wise. I think it would be very hard to go through life assuming everyone is dishonest.

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  7. Perhaps the responsibility lies with us, the consumer. The consumer of politics, financial advice, automobiles, houses, religion, history, medical advice, food products & everything else. Some things I can easily educate myself on. If Consumer Reports has rated a particular car brand as low reliability for many years I would feel foolish to consider buying one. I have chosen to defer to their proven expertise. When Jack Bogle of Vanguard tells me it is almost impossible to pick a fund manager that can consistently outperform an index fund I defer to his well deserved expertise instead of my gut feelings. When a politician tells me a tax cut will pay for itself it doesn't take much reading to find out that never happens. When I get burned it is usually when I failed to educate myself before making a decision or I let emotions take over instead of using logic. I have done both numerous times.
    Some lessons last a lifetime. My wife got taken by a car dealer, family friend, in the 70's. The result was she has never bought an American car since. She also has not had any significant car problems since then.
    I completely trust when there is absolutely no choice. Like being wheeled into an ER unconscious with life threatening injuries. Then the one person I can absolutely trust, my wife, arrives and informs the ER they are not rated for this level of trauma. Five minutes later she is asked which hospital would you like a transfer too. Had I been conscious my level of trust would have increased significantly at this point. My educated decision 25 years prior just payed off.

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    1. Educating oneself on any subject to not be taken advantage of is wise. With the Internet there really are few excuses for not performing due diligence.

      The ER example is interesting. I don't think I have heard of someone doing that before, but obviously it was necessary in that case. Your wife took a gutsy stand because she had the knowledge.

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  8. I really liked this post. I have trust issues, but I still agree with your sentiments. The climate of distrust is sad and dangerous.

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    1. We have to trust ourselves enough to trust some people in our life. It is just too bad this subject even requires these questions.

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  9. My complete trust extends to my husband, children and grands. In exchange, I will do anything I can for them at any time. They can depend on me to do the same.
    My experience is that people are people where ever you go. They all put on pants (mostly) the same way. They also cover their own butts- literally and figuratively.
    Trust but verify. WHY people do what they do?
    I trust that some people who can do some pretty "mean or bad" things (in a Judeo Christian meaning) can also do some pretty amazing things. Take Sts Paul and Peter for instance. Paul was not a very nice guy and had some mean things to say about people of my gender---but he was an amazing man. Peter- the ultimate friend and the ultimate betrayer. What is the main course in their works? That is what I want to know.
    In general, after living in 3 countries and visiting 30 more for periods of time, I trust that the US has a good system and knows how to push through really tough spots. I guess I am half full, even in this dark time.
    I never do trust anyone who drinks too much or "parties" too hard until they are done with that stage.

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    1. Thank you for an excellent comment that does a great job of showing the balance that exists in virtually everyone. I would also add that breaking trust once should not necessarily mean a lifetime of shunning. WE all make mistakes or do things we regret. Your example of Paul and Peter were right on target. After all, Peter denied Jesus three times but became the person Jesus trusted to build the church. If we learn from when we fail and dedicate ourselves to not repeating that episode, then forgiveness or another chance may be warranted.

      I will add one caveat to the forgiveness model: in a marriage, or when given the responsibility to raise children, breaking someone's trust is about as seriously wrong as it gets.

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  10. I don't trust politicians from any party to do the right thing. I hate to write (admit) that but I believe denying what I feel inside will take away from my emotional well-being. For the time that I have left on this planet I want to help as many people as I can. Even better my wife feels and acts the same way. We are givers that like to help others who are struggling and whenever I hear a thank you from someone I helped it makes me feel really good inside. Money can't buy you that kind of feeling. I get that same special feeling when people trust and have faith in what I am trying to do. Hope that makes sense to you Bob.

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    1. Not only does it make sense, Mike, but it is a loving, beautiful approach to living. It doesn't get more meaningful than helping others in worse circumstances than our own, being there for family or friends in need, or becoming involved with organizations that dedicate themselves to making the world a better, safer place.

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  11. Call me naive, but I am still shocked when I discover that somebody has lied. Worse still, the older I get, the more I’m aware of it. As a former divorce lawyer, I used to assume that only some clients fibbed, now in retirement and meeting a broader spectrum of people (pre-Covid of course) I realise that it’s par for the course for so many people not just politicians. Perhaps that’s why fake news and lying politicians are not only expected but accepted too.

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    1. Apparently lying to gain an advantage in something is now concerned the smart thing to do. Any weakness or opening should be exploited for personal gain. That the the message from the halls of government (including the U.K.), too many businesses, and maybe even the person in front of you in line at the grocery store.

      The unimportance of religion or spirituality in culture, the behavior of too many politicians, and the changing moral standards in society in general are to blame.

      Our job, like Mike notes above, is to fight that erosion with our own personal behavior and standards.

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    2. Bob, infrequent commenter, but, in my 60’s, and having spent most of my life, until about 10 years ago, generally flying the evangelical Christian banner, then fully embracing atheism (and not for a moment looking back), moral standards don’t need to be founded upon religion. There’s a dramatically growing demographic that doesn’t subscribe to any particular religion, and in my opinion will lead to better overall outcomes. For those who wish to follow a particular faith, there should be equal opportunity, without favoritism. I do agree our collective moral standards in this society need to evolve further, and through these challenging times, I’m hopeful that will gradually be the case. Thanks for your good work.

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    3. Thanks, DL. My own spiritual journey has taken me away from the strict adherence to one faith path, making my life fuller and feel more connected to others. I believe there is the power of a Supreme Being inside all of us; our job is to listen to that "voice" and attempt to live in a way that does no harm to others while sharing whatever we have to lessen someone else's burden.

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  12. I see a connection between this post and the last one about positive and negative attitudes. We have some choice about whether we emphasize trust or distrust in our dealings with others. Just as distrust tends to multiply, so does trust. There was a story on the news yesterday about how New Zealand has now gone 100 days without any new Covid-19 infections. New Zealand was clearly helped in controlling the virus by being an island country that could isolate itself and by being a small country (about half the population of New York City); but I also think Jacinda Adhern has done an impressive job of creating an atmosphere of trust -- trust in government and trust in one another.

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    1. Yes, the Prime Minister of New Zealand has done some amazing things in her time in office...besides the virus work, she helped push a ban on assault weapons after a mass shooting in the country.

      I read the same article about the country being new infection-free for over 3 months. She has the backing and trust of enough of the population and leaders to enforce the type of protections that made New Zealand one of the safest places in the world during the pandemic.

      Good for her.

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  13. This is such an important issue, Bob. So much of my study of happiness in past years, and my current engagement with the Tao Te Ching, indicates that without a sense of basic trust, we cannot live with any sense of peace and joy. I was so dismayed recently to hear my eight year old grandson say, in a moment of frustration, that he did not trust anyone. Where did that come from?? Has he just absorbed this skepticism from the world around him? I don't know.

    I don't have any answers, but I'm glad you have raised the topic and offered your wisdom on the subject.

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    1. After reading your last post about how 2020 was going to be your year of "Perfect Vision," you must have a strong sense of trust that this too shall pass.

      That was an eye-opening statement from your grandson. To be so affected by the world at age eight says we all have our work cut out for us to help him and every other young person see the future as bright and the people taking us there as dependable.

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  14. Your question, “What can any of us do…?”, is another LOWRY BRAIN TEASTER, a jig-saw puzzle of thoughts, emotions, duality decisions, soulful spirituality and ego-centric reactions that need to somehow fit together to complete a picture of “TRUSTWORTHY.” What I CAN do is be more trustworthy. I can avoid distrusting persons simply because we have different opinions, experiences and knowledge sources. I can withdraw my support of an activity, person or business that consistently originates or perpetuates statements that are factually untrue. Perhaps, if I could choose to be more compassionate, humble and balanced then being trustworthy might become a “virus” that I could spread. Ya think?

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