Issues of trust, mistrust define society: Column
By Rich Elfers
Trust: “Firm belief in the integrity, ability, or character of a person or thing; confidence or reliance. The condition and resulting obligation of having confidence placed in one.” (Wordnik.com) Trust is what makes societies function properly. When trust is lacking, conflicts arise and bonds between individuals and groups begin to fray and frequently break. Looking at American society through the lens of trust or its lack spotlights the state of the nation.
Trust/mistrust in government: In modern politics, our major political parties are based upon either trust in government – the Democrats, or distrust of government – the Republicans.
Democrats often see government as their only real protection against the power of the rich. They favor large government programs because they see the pharmaceuticals, the bankers, Wall Street, and other large corporations out to take advantage of them and steal what little wealth they have. Without strong and effective government oversight, most people feel helpless in the face of the grasping greed of big business. The sugar industry is a good example of this. For decades, it deflected attention from sugary soda drinks, which are a major factor in Americans’ growing obesity, to fats, which, if consumed thoughtfully, actually diminish hunger pangs and help to reduce weight.
Republicans, on the other hand, see government as the enemy because government regulations steal their hard-earned money through taxation and oppressive regulation. This government oversight takes their profits through stupid and bureaucratic rules that make little or no sense. Talk to any business person, and he/she will give colorful accounts of how the government’s rigid regulations reduced their profits and diverted their investment funds to satisfy meaningless requirements. As I have aged, I have realized that many well-intentioned but ridiculous rules only create stress and provide no real benefit. It’s aggravating.
Trust/mistrust in religion and marriage: Church attendance in the mainline Christian churches has diminished over the last 30 or 40 years. It’s due in large part to a lack of trust. The resulting phrase many non-attenders now use is that they are “spiritual but not religious,” meaning that they no longer attend church.
This is also true in attitudes about marriage. There are a great many couples who are living together without marrying, trusting that their commitment will withstand the stress and that they don’t need the legal obligations of state-sanctioned matrimony. The high divorce rates of the 1960s and 1970s have caused many Americans to turn to living together as a trial run. Unfortunately, statistics show that living together does not guarantee future marital success. It actually makes it less likely.
Trust/mistrust in people/corporations keeping their word: Do you really think that your personal data is safe on Facebook or Google? Can you really trust them to protect your information? How many data breaches have you read about in the past two years? Meanwhile, corporations are harvesting important information about you to use for their own financial gain while you become better known to them than you know yourselves.
It’s amazing what people share on Facebook about their thoughts and beliefs. It’s shocking to see what people will reveal about themselves through their posts. Have you ever gone to a website, only to find that similar ads pop up later? Big Brother is watching you, and it’s not the government.
Research shows the most important issue for all people is their need to belong to something bigger than themselves. To gain this sense of belonging requires that we trust each other. But how can we trust each other if so much in our culture wages war against truth? The solution to this dilemma on an individual scale is to become trustworthy yourself. Then seek out people whose word is their bond. Trust builds upon trust. It isn’t easy, but it’s the only way.
Rich Elfers is a columnist with the Courier-Herald in Enumclaw and
a Green River College professor. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.