Judith M. Bardwick, Ph.D.
It is no coincidence that there has been a huge increase in the number of, news stories, articles and podcasts all claiming the ongoing and increasing loss of Trust and rise in Mistrust over the last decade.
What is Trust? Trust is the gift of a binding handshake, the behavioral expression that “My word is my bond”. It is The Golden Rule in which people’s behavior expresses their promise to “do unto you as I would have you do unto me And on the basis of this mutual promise I will do you no harm. I further commit to tell you the truth. You have my sacred bond that my actions are and will be in line with my promises.”
Issues of Trust and Mistrust go far back into ancient history probably pre-dating the evolution of modern man. Why, we can wonder, do issues of Trust seem to matter more than ever today? We have no measurements of how frequently people cheated, lied, stole or betrayed others over the millennia so we can’t make data-based comparisons of how trustworthy people are now with any previous time period. But peoples’ perception is that Trust has declined noticeably and Mistrust has increased markedly in the past three to five decades.
Being able to Trust is more important than ever because we are living in a world of continuous change. Everywhere you look the world is changing at an accelerating rate. Continuous change creates unpredictability and therefore uncertainty about what will happen and whether or not you can cope. An environment which is fundamentally changing is not stable; there are no permanent anchors that let you achieve security and the sense of being in control.
Consider computer technology as an example of widespread change: Today computers with enormous memory are creating new widely adopted personal devices and applications that change our lives daily.
People have an atlas, a business directory, a dictionary, an encyclopedia, a computer, a personal communication device, and a television on their person. Many relationships especially in younger generations are created via computer devices instead of in personal interactions. This is a huge cultural change.
It is likely that every generation believes it has faced constant and frequently confusing change since man started hunting and farming and improved the points on digging sticks and arrows. But over the past two generations the speed of change has been accelerating. Enormous changes in technology, the large numbers of college graduates, many with advanced degrees, the increasing use of computers, the development of satellite communications, and the expansion of air transportation has literally shrunk the world. Thus change is happening everywhere in every field and the rate keeps increasing.
When things are constantly changing, old assumptions may have become irrelevant, old skills may have become dysfunctional, predicted outcomes may not occur and promises made may have become impossible to keep. Old and wise leaders may be jettisoned in favor of people with less experience but new, more contemporary views, and the more experienced and knowledgeable people may well be discarded as no longer valuable.
When the old rules no longer serve as effective guides to making good choices and the new rules are not yet solidified, confusion increases. The basis of Trust is predictability, which simply means that promises like “I’ll deliver that order on Tuesday” are kept. However promises are frequently broken when changes introduce unexpected complications. People’s natural response is to blame other people. In this way, continuous change jeopardizes Trust.
How do people find their way in an ever changing world where every roadmap for life is out of date before it is published and levels of unpredictability, risk, suspicion and wariness keep rising? Feeling lost and uncertain, people turn to institutions and people in whom they have confidence. They look to others with whom they have relationships, to leaders and organizations they believe in, and to their own abilities to cope and change. Ultimately, people have to develop enough Trust, Confidence and Resilience so they can give up their social masks because that makes them more open which makes them more believable, therefore trustworthy. Then, they can develop honest relationships where they can trust and be trusted.
Shared mutual Trust with people, organizations, and institutions is the only condition that provides people with anchors and prevents people from feeling they are being tossed willy-nilly into swirling waters which could carry them anywhere.
And that, very simply, is why Trust matters.