Trust Is A Shrinking Commodity



The word out of Chicago is that trust is taking a beating in America today. According to a University of Chicago National Opinion Research Center poll, pessimism has replaced optimism as the bulwark of the American psyche. In fact, the poll revealed a steady decline in trust over the last four decades.

When asked in the most recent poll if most people can be trusted, only 35 percent of poll participants said yes.

In 1991, 39 percent of respondents said they trusted most of humankind. In 1980, 44 percent trusted their fellow man and/or woman. In 1971 the number was 49 percent. And back in 1964, at a time when many of us were professing not to trust anyone over 30, fully 53 percent of poll respondents said most people could be trusted.

To turn those percentages into living examples of the times we live in, Chicago Tribune writer Greg Burns cites the cases of Sammy Sosa and Martha Stewart, two celebrities who have asked us to "trust them" in the face of overwhelming evidence that you wouldn't want to turn your back on either one for fear of getting bonked over the head with a corked bat or having your favorite recipe picked right out of your pocket.

Burns also points out that the Catholic church, the New York Times, the federal government and Fortune 500 companies have all contributed to the erosion of trust by being less than forthright of late.

Because the survey shows distrust runs highest among young people, Burns also takes a stab at some other causative factors, including too much TV (because it discourages "civic and social interactions" by disconnecting one person from another) and rising divorce rates (because experiencing a family breakup at a young age is pretty unsettling). Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) the survey results support neither theory.

My question, which the poll doesn't address, is whether trust is higher in small-town burgs like our own. My premise is that it is, and I cite not having to live in fear of being mugged or having your car stolen or being the victim of road rage among the reasons why this would be true (although there has been an isolated incident or two).

But why hypothesize when the answer is just a few steps away. I decided to take an informal survey of Roundup employees.

To my amazement, the 15 people I talked to were overwhelmingly opposed to trust. Twelve, in fact, said the majority of people could not be trusted.

Some comments:

"Like ex-husbands."

"Especially women."

"I don't know if I trust myself."

"I say you can't trust anybody."

"I'm basing it on 40 years of working with co-workers."

"We've all been screwed a few times."

"You have to build trust."

From one of the three who answered affirmatively:

"It's an attitude. You can choose to be trusting or not trusting."

To which came these responses:

"You can choose to be swindled or not swindled."

"You can choose to be smart or dumb."

Now you can attribute the results of my informal poll to the cynical media if you like. It is, after all, our fate in life to be skeptical and questioning as we search for truth and justice on your behalf.

Which means of course if you trust anyone, you should trust us.

But on reflection, there are a lot of things up here in the Rim country that stretch credibility to the very brink of distrust. Do you, for example:

  • Trust Valinda Jo Elliott to set her Bic down and back away slowly?
  • Trust your local town council to become a unified body working in harmony for the common good of the community?
  • Trust Salt River Project to have a change of heart and let us have a drink of water instead of sending all our surface water to the golf courses of Maricopa County?
  • Trust your dog to behave when you're not looking?
  • Trust your cat, period?
  • Trust campers from the Valley to leave the forest in the same condition they found it?
  • Trust your neighbor to conserve water like you do?
  • Trust your ex-whatever (husband, wife, business partner, friend) to give the eulogy at your funeral?

And where are those weapons of mass destruction, anyway?

I say we leave no rose bush unturned in our search for trust, but until we find it, I'm sleeping with one eye open.

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