USA: “In Nothing We Trust”

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As I write this, we are in the midst of the primaries for the 2018 mid-term elections. Arizona and Florida were last week and Massachusetts and Delaware voters go to the polls next week. All the candidates are trying to earn the trust of the voters by raising mistrust in their rivals. Each speech seems to be a checklist of our 5C’s of trust:

CHARACTER — “My actions are true to our shared values; my opponents are not.”

COMMITMENT — “I will fight for you; my opponents will waffle and wilt.”

COMPETENCE — “I’m experienced, successful, and tested; my opponents are not. And their experiences are not relevant to today’s problems; they are not electable.”

CONNECTION — “I know you, your problems, and your concerns; my opponents are out of touch or worse, they are supported by interest groups opposed to your well-being.”

COMMUNICATION — they attend all types of campaign events, go on all types of TV shows, and use social media to get the messages above out while checking daily polls to see if the messages are being received.

The crowds gathering at rallies and on social media reflect tremendous anger, disappointment, and mistrust in our elected officials and all the others — the other candidates, the other party, them, those people, you-know-who.

Some of the candidates are fanning the flames of mistrust and betrayal to gain support. This is not a new tactic, but the result is a gridlocked government and polarized electorate that prevents constructive progress in dealing with any of the large problems we are facing — stagnant wages, dwindling middle class, decaying infrastructure, declining competitiveness, all combined with a seeming disregard for civility and citizenship.

We’re in a trust crisis.

Jeff Greenfield pointed out that trust is at very low levels across the spectrum of American life.

…The unhappy fact is that Americans’ trust in just about all our institutions has been in a long, almost unbroken decline.

Our trust in government? A Pew Research poll last November found that only 19 percent of us trusted the government to do what was right all or most of the time. That’s close to an historic low. Well, OK, but that’s the government. We are a nation born in revolt, with a permanent skepticism about our leaders. But now look at our feelings about other major institutions, and the picture, painted by a series of Gallup surveys going back decades, finds a disturbingly similar pattern.

Our churches? Two-thirds of us had a lot of trust in our religious institutions back in 1973. Now barely 42 percent do.

Banks? Trust has gone from 60 percent back in 1979 to 28 percent now.

Our public schools? More than half were trusting at the end of the ’70s. Barely three in 10 are today.

Organized labor? Big business? The medical system? The presidency? All get low grades. And before you ask, 21 percent profess a lot of faith in television news, less than half the percentage that did so little more than 20 years ago.

Other than the military, the police, and small business, no institution commands the trust of a majority of us, and even those are less trusted than they once were.

Well, the question is, why?

One obvious answer, there’s good reason for this mistrust. How confident should we be in banks after the financial meltdown, in our public schools, given the woeful marks our students get compared with other nations, in our religious leaders, given the criminal sexual behavior of those who’ve spoken in God’s name?

But we’re also living in a less innocent time. The press was strictly controlled in World War II. The failures, strategic and moral, in places like Iraq, are on full display. The private lives of politicians, once carefully concealed, are now matters of public speculation.

Movies that celebrated heroes of the church or finance now tell very different stories of greed and sin. And the media messengers who show us the feet of clay on those that stand on the pedestals, well, they are increasingly seen as carriers of a partisan agenda, or guilty of their own failures.

But, deserved or not, the lengthy disaffection that so many feel about so many important parts of our national life clearly puts a heavy burden on anyone asking for the trust of the citizenry. It may, indeed, reward those who seek power, not by offering to ease that disaffection, but to feed it.

And it’s worth asking, how does a nation thrive when, year after year, our motto is, in nothing we trust?

In every crisis, there is opportunity.

Imagine how you can distinguish yourself, your company, your church, your school, your non-profit, your sports team by building trust.

There are no shortcuts. It requires building it brick by brick.

Be a High-Trust Leader: ask the questions associated with each of the 5C’s about yourself and your organization. Then act on the answers.

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