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Why Don't We All Just Trust One Another?

Jan 6, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Why don't we all just trust one another?

Turns out that trust pays -research suggests societies where citizens have plenty of faith in each other also have stronger economies

By Douglas Todd, Vancouver Sun - March 12, 2011 4:04 AM

"Trust me."

Have you heard that one before? Have you said it yourself?

It's an expression sometimes heard in the workplace, in the marketplace, and in personal relationships, even in the bedroom.

We often greet requests to "trust me" with suspicion, however, as if the phrase is the last resort of shifty usedcar salespeople or dictators secretly stealing the people's money.

Without thinking about it, most Canadians assume a degree of trust in any relationship: intimate, mercantile or social. We tend to go around assuming other people are reasonably honest and reliable.

Trust is necessary to cut through suspicion to accomplish goals, and to make a personal connection. Without trust, we wither. As individuals.

And as cultures. For these reasons, trust is becoming a big topic in Canada and around the globe.

Trust is being studied by psychologists, anthropologists, business leaders and governments.

It's considered the invisible foundation of the marketplace, and of civil nations. Without trust, individuals, corporations and nations can't move forward.

Let's, however, begin at the beginning.

In psychology, trust is defined as believing the person upon whom you're dependent will do what you expect and will operate with a certain degree of benevolence.

The famed child psychologist Erik Erikson was among the first to convince the world that the foundation of trust was established in the first two years of life.

Success in this early stage of psychosocial trust results in feelings of security and optimism, Erikson taught, while failure leads towards an orientation of insecurity and pessimism.

Trust allows adults to give up striving for total control, to make themselves vulnerable and more cooperative.

As Barbara Misztal writes in her book, Trust in Modern Societies, our lives become more predictable if we trust. We also enjoy more of a sense of community, and it becomes easier for us to work together.

Researchers, however, are finding that many social forces today work against trust, making many prone to fear of betrayal.

Those forces include corruption among political and corporate leaders -as well as rising cynicism about professionals' ethics, the claims of marketers, the impartiality of the mass media and wariness about neighbours from different ethnicities.

The most well-known measurement of global trust today is produced by Transparency International.

The highly respected organization ranks countries for their perceived level of corruption among politicians and other public officials. It looks into how much authorities in each country are believed to abuse their power for private gain.

The good news is that Transparency International's 2011 findings place Canada as the sixth least-corrupt nation of more than 180.

Countries that do even better than Canada on trust are Denmark, New Zealand, Singapore, Finland and Sweden. The United States comes in 22nd.

Transparency International rates the world's most corrupt countries as Afghanistan, Myanmar and Somalia (which happen to be the former homes of many recent refugees to Canada).

The Edelman Trust Barometer has in recent years also moved into measuring how much trust people have in businesses, governments and other organizations in 23 industrialized countries.

It general, the Edelman Barometer has found that trust has been dropping around the globe in the past decade, particularly in light of recent economic crises spawned by high-level corporate corruption.

However, Canadian-headquartered companies have among the highest trust levels of all the world's businesses, along with those based in Germany and Sweden, according to the Edelman barometer.

In addition, the Edelman Barometer has been finding that trust is rising for governments and business in China and Brazil, at the same time as it's declining in the United States and Russia.

How do people -and societies -learn to trust?

Working with the ideas of Erikson, a University of B.C. psychologist/anthropologist came up with a groundbreaking new theory last year when he provided evidence that trust increases in societies that are committed to world religions and a functioning market economy.

Many judge free-enterprise markets to be ruthless, but Joe Henrich maintains that working markets have generally been a force for good over the last 10,000 years, helping to drive the evolution of more trusting societies.

Henrich's findings, reported in the journal Science, were based on 13 researchers spending time with more than 2,000 people in 15 different societies.

The hunter-gatherer and tribal societies that were studied are known for sharing among family and close acquaintances. But the researchers found honesty in monetary transactions with strangers was an alien concept.

Henrich's innovative experiments found that the likelihood that people "played fair" with strangers increased with the degree people were integrated into markets and participated in a world religion, which teach the value of being ethical with outsiders.

Those in the simpler tribal societies treated strangers less fairly.

Some Scandinavian psychologists have added several twists to how trust develops in contemporary society.

Their work adds new insights to Henrich's theories about the positive influence of trust that is based on fair competition in the marketplace.

Christian Bjornskov, of the University of Aarhus, explores why residents of Scandinavia continually show up on surveys as the most trusting -and content -people on the planet.

The high levels of trust among Scandinavians may go back hundreds of years -to the Vikings, Bjornskov maintains. Bjornskov and colleagues cite studies showing how the ancestors of Scandinavians who had emigrated more than a century earlier to the United States consistently showed up as more trusting than the typical American.

Bjornskov's work on trust has implications for what makes healthy societies tick, particularly mixed-economy societies with generous social programs.

While many researchers have argued that welfare states create stronger trust among their inhabitants, Bjornskov's studies lead him to stress the opposite: That people who are more trusting in the first place are more supportive of universal social programs.

In addition, Bjornskov maintains Scandinavians' innately high levels of mutual trust also lead to more efficient and competitive marketplaces, which is the case in Nordic countries.

There are three ways that high trust leads to support for solid governmentrun social programs, Bjornskov and Andreas Bergh maintain in a 2011 paper published in the journal Kyklos, titled "Historical trust levels predict the current size of the welfare state."

Their research, which looked at trust levels in dozens of countries, has implications for countries such as Canada and especially the U.S., where anti-government and anti-tax rhetoric often reaches a fever pitch of mistrust and suspicion.

People who live in trust-filled societies, Bergh and Bjornskov write, are less likely to worry that others will take advantage of the welfare system as "free riders." They believe the state is thus generally protected from fraud.

(Even though Bergh and Bjornskov don't mention it in their recent paper, many Scandinavians are having their trust in the welfare system stretched by an influx of poor, illiterate refugees, who often end up living on government stipends and being unable or unwilling to work.)

In addition, Bergh and Bjornskov found that trusting citizens are ready to support solid welfare programs because they believe others are more likely to follow the rules set down by bureaucrats and lawmakers.

That leads to "fewer and less-detailed regulations," including less red tape, for example, and a more productive private sector. Many Scandinavians, for instance, still follow an ancient tradition that considers oral handshake agreements to be binding.

Thirdly, Bjornskov and Bergh say high-trust cultures limit the problems "associated with citizens operating in the underground economy, cheating on taxes" and otherwise breaking the rules of a sound and fair commercial system.

Given the impressive economic track record of Nordic countries in recent decades, combined with their effective social programs, there appears to be something for Canadians to learn from such studies of trust.

Societies in which citizens have a strong degree of faith in each other appear to have stronger economies and are less likely to promote selfishness. It's hard to find fault with that kind of society.

In this age of expanding cynicism and suspicion, all the research appears to lead to one key question: How can we persuade more people to be more trusting?


© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

source: http://www.{censored}/news/just+trust+another/4429805/story.html


Mar 1, 2011
Tacoma WA
I WISH I could trust people. It's a tough call for the reasons the article very aptly put! Adults have plenty of reason to be mistrustful of people, but some tend to give the benefit of the doubt to each person and let them have the chance at it before distrusting. Others, like me, have a "prove it" attitude before investing any trust in others. In other words, I don't trust anyone at face-value. I find that I am not as disappointed in others if I don't invest trust in them until they've proven to me they CAN be trusted.

So, my point is, prove you can be trusted. And I welcome the same behavior from others as well. I really wouldn't want someone to trust me implicitly right off, get to know me, let me get to know you, then we decide to trust each other. Some may feel that's disrespectful. But trust and respect are two completely different matters. I will respect you but that doesn't mean I have to automatically trust you. It goes both ways, too. That's my POV anyway. :)

So, "trust me!" hehehe

Nice article, by the way.




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