“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”

— Stephen Covey

“He who does not trust enough, will not be trusted.”

— Lao Tzu

“Trust your instinct to the end, though you can render no reason.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”

— Ernest Hemingway

“The senses deceive from time to time, and it is prudent never to trust wholly those who have deceived us even once.”

— Rene Descartes

“Trust is a product of test over time.”

— Myles Munroe

“Trust is the easiest thing in the world to lose, and the hardest thing in the world to get back.”

— R. M. Williams

“Building trust is a process. Trust results from consistent and predictable interaction over time.”

— Barbara M. White

“Trusting is hard. Knowing who to trust, even harder.”

— Maria V. Snyder

“Trust is the lubrication that makes it possible for organizations to work.”

— Warren G. Bennis

Trust everywhere is being severely eroded. So much that I trusted in past has betrayed my trust. Hospitals and medical professionals, I trusted without reservations. Journalists, I trusted to report the truth. No longer … they have betrayed my trust. Politicians and government I have never trusted. Have we entered a trustless world? What does this mean for us poor trusting folks?

Trust is so important to virtually all of us. It is worth repeating here the Stephen Covey quote above:

“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”

What is trust in practice? The dictionary definition goes something like this:

TrustFirm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, character, or strength of someone or something.

Of course, psychologists have something much more complex to say about trust. An example …

A psychologist’s view of trust

“KEY POINTS

➧ Trust is a brain process that binds representations of self, other, situation, and emotion into a neural pattern called a semantic pointer.

➧ Trust is rarely absolute, but rather is restricted to particular situations.

➧ Mistrusting someone is not just a prediction of betrayal. It’s also a bad emotional feeling about the untrustworthy person.

➧ Trust is a central part of all human relationships, including romantic partnerships, family life, business operations, politics, and medical practices. If you don’t trust your doctor or psychotherapist, for example, it is much harder to benefit from their professional advice.”

“But what is trust? Here are some possibilities:

➧ Trust is a set of behaviors, such as acting in ways that depend on another.

➧ Trust is a belief in a probability that a person will behave in certain ways.

➧ Trust is an abstract mental attitude toward a proposition that someone is dependable.

➧ Trust is a feeling of confidence and security that a partner cares.

➧ Trust is a complex neural process that binds diverse representations into a semantic pointer that includes emotions.”

“Behaviors and verbal expressions are certainly evidence for trust—for example, when someone treats you well and says nice things to you—but these behaviors are merely evidence for the internal mental state of trust that causes them, not the trust itself. Trusting people may involve estimations of probabilities of how they will behave, but people usually trust others without any understanding of probability or any precise predictions about their behaviors. Some philosophers would say that trust is a propositional attitude, an abstract relation between an abstract self and an abstract meaning of the sentence. But the nature of these selves, relations, and meanings is utterly mysterious.”

“The psychological alternative that trust is a feeling of confidence and security is much more plausible than behavioral, probabilistic, and philosophical views. But it leaves unspecified the nature of this feeling. My forthcoming book, Mind-Society, proposes that trust is a brain process that binds representations of self, other, situation, and emotion into a special pattern of neural firing called a semantic pointer. Emotions like trust and love are neural patterns that combine representations of the situation that the emotion is about, appraisals of the relevance of the situation to goals, perceptions of physiological changes, and (sometimes) representations of the self that is having the emotion.”

Umm …

The dictionary definition seems entirely adequate, perhaps with these extensions:

  • Trust is a belief once trust is gained.
  • Trust is a test before it has been gained, proven.
  • Trust, once lost, is extremely hard to regain.

Trusting comes before trust

For you to be trusted by someone, they must generally be trusting – willing to trust you on faith – as a test. If you prove worthy of whatever the trusting test involves or requires, you gain some measure of trustworthiness. After some number of trusting tests, you may be trusted by that person thereafter. Or until you intentionally betray that trust.

You may of course be willing to trust someone simply on the basis of a favorable assessment by someone you trust in such matters. No test necessary.

You may also be willing to trust from your own reservoir of goodwill. You offer trust without testing on the expectation that your faith will be adequately justified.

You cannot in general force anyone to trust you, but you may well succeed with deception to gain trust. This all gets quite complicated in practice, yes?

I think of trust mostly in terms of a belief that someone will reliably and positively respond – act – as I expect in certain relevant situations. Trust is situation-dependent.

“In the small matters trust the mind, in the large ones the heart.” — Sigmund Freud

Is “trust-as-belief” a matter of the heart? I think so.
Is “trust-as-belief” a matter of the heart? I think so.

The widespread loss of trust today in so many things

I read almost daily about folks concerned about their loss of trust in people, organizations, practices, and positions. One of my favorite sources of profile statistics is Statista. An example related to trust is shown below, based on a recent (2023) Gallup survey.

Only two institutions in the U.S. out of sixteen were rated by more than 50% as being trustworthy – having a great deal or quite a lot of trust. Only a third trust the medical system, which I find deeply troubling. Congress, for some reason, ranks at a very dismal 8%. I am surprised that it is even this high.

There may be less here than meets the eye. Recall that trust is usually situation-dependent. It has a particular context. You may trust someone, or a bunch of someone’s, in a certain situation, but trust them weakly or not at all in a different situation. Trust is conditional.

So what is the context that the Gallup survey respondents were thinking of when they offered their trust ratings on each institution?

My guess is that they were mostly expecting – trusting – the institution to be doing its job competently and efficiently. Whatever this may mean in practice. The very high number of low-trust institutions indicates that many people do not feel each such institution is doing a “good job”.

By expressing a lack of trust, people are saying in effect that the institution that they are paying for or supporting in some manner has failed to deliver value as expected. The institution has betrayed their trust. Trust once lost is very hard to regain.

Source.
Source.

It would have been interesting to find out what survey respondents do as a result of their “low trust” rating. Do they avoid voting? Do they stop any active participation? Do they want to leave their present location? Avoid medical treatments?

Of course, digging in further can quickly get very costly, and only a small number of responders may be willing or able to give a thoughtful answer.

Why the loss of trust by so many on so many institutions?

Even if you have no interest or ability to affect the behavior of a once-trusted institution, you may well make a dramatic change in your behavior should such trust be lost.

I can offer a personal example, fairly recent. Without going into names or details, I can state at least that I was misdiagnosed by a major hospital. The diagnosis was a quite serious medical condition. I learned over the subsequent year that I had no such condition. During that learning period, I made major changes in many aspects of my life, which it turned out were beneficial in themselves, but otherwise completely unnecessary.

According to Forbes, medical errors cause 251,000 fatalities annually. Medical errors account for 9.5% of all deaths in the U.S. each year, making medical malpractice a leading cause of death. Medical malpractice is the third most common cause of death in the United States.

My loss of trust in the medical system is presently making me avoid any reliance whatever on it. I am relying instead on a healthy diet, lots of exercise, a simple lifestyle, and similar actions to avoid as much as possible any need for medical care. Luckily, it is working quite well – so far, at least. My loss of trust here is unlikely to return, ever.

I have mentioned in several posts my complete distrust of government generally, especially those in higher offices. Like George Carlin, I trust nothing they say. This distrust fortunately has not (yet) gotten me into any trouble with the powers-that-be, but I truly do expect some serious struggles beginning this year.

How far am I willing to resist and non-comply? I have no idea. Guess I’ll find out the hard way by testing the limits wherever and however situations permit.

I have also, as suggested above, attempted to understand the context of my distrust. Clearly, it isn’t anywhere near total. I still trust government (and the medical system) to certain degrees in specific contexts. This conditional trust turns out, in my mind at least, to be extremely important.

My distrust of globalists in general is not total by any means

I have stated in many posts that I expect the enormous efforts by globalist leaders and organizations – like the UN, WHO, WEF, EU, and a raft of supporters and enablers – to foist some quite awful changes upon us serfs and bystanders. This while claiming to be helping the planet or preventing diseases like COVID. Truth is nowhere to be found.

For example, who might actually be winning in the Ukraine proxy war? Who might be trusted to tell the truth? Nobody, for certain. If the West says Russia is winning, then I would be sure that Russia is losing. If Russia says that it is winning, my sense is that I will believe them – but only if and when it actually happens. Maybe the reality is that nobody will win – everybody involved loses.

So, who if anyone can us normal people trust today? So many sources with great power are completely untrustworthy. This means in practice that whatever they say cannot possibly be true. I can trust them absolutely – to lie about virtually everything.

Can one actually trust sources to lie? Of course, so long as they have a track record of lying. It would be greatly inconvenient for any of these sources to begin telling the truth. The horror, the horror, as Colonel Kurtz helpfully observed.

Trust is a very tricky concept to deal with in reality

This seems most inconvenient. We can trust completely untrustworthy people to lie consistently about some things. We can trust normally trustworthy people to tell us the truth about certain things, but not about other things.

Trust used to be so simple in the past. Or so it seemed.

“Trust” and “confidence” seem to be used interchangeably. The Gallup survey itself refers to their “confidence” context, while Statista uses “trust” instead, looking at the same survey.

Is “trust” the same as “confidence”? From Thesaurus.com:

“Saying that you have trust in someone is often the same as saying you have confidence in them or that you place your hope or faith in them. Trust is often a firm belief that someone or something won’t let you down. Trust is also a verb meaning to have such confidence.”

The “trust” or “confidence” that we are looking at here is one of institution performance vs. our expectations (and their promises) of their purpose or job. The survey asks to what degree do people view the institution relative to what “we” – each of us – think that their purpose or job is. This seems to require that survey respondents have a similar view of purpose/role, but in reality it does not.

Institutions nearly always have multiple purposes or roles. Performing badly on any of these would be regarded as a failure, or breached trust (confidence). It is important that institutions be assessed on as broad a range of purposes/roles as each one may have.

I may assess a medical system as having my low confidence rating because of a possibly-unavoidable diagnostic error, while others may give their high rating based on how well – relative to patient expectations – the institution treated a significant medical condition.

Some folks may even give an institution a relatively high rating even if they actually know nothing about it. Reasoning here may simply be that if we haven’t heard or read anything bad, then the institution must be performing well, or well enough. Trust or confidence is indeed a very tricky concept.

How about changes in trust/confidence ratings over some period? I am a big believer in tracking system changes to find out what is actually happening, at least in a relative, year-to-year, sense.

Trust, aka confidence, continues its downward trend

One might reasonably wonder how well each institution in Gallup’s list of 16 is performing over some time period. Gallup has a lengthy record of just this, but the trend over the most recent three years is far from encouraging:

“Americans’ faith in major societal institutions hasn’t improved over the past year following a slump in public confidence in 2022. Last year, Gallup recorded significant declines in public confidence in 11 of the 16 institutions it tracks annually, with the presidency and Supreme Court suffering the most. The share of Americans expressing a great deal or fair amount of confidence in these fell 15 and 11 percentage points, respectively.”

“Americans’ confidence in institutions in 2023 represents the continuation of the historic confidence deficit recorded a year ago. None of the 15 institutions rated annually managed to repair their images, with many remaining at or near their all-time lows. While hardly encouraging, the good news is that none worsened significantly.”

At what point does low “trust” or “confidence” become significant, and potentially troublesome? Below 50%, perhaps? Gallup shows 14 out of 16 institutions being below 50%. How about below 33%, which would mean that 67% of us regard these institutions as failed in some sense. This really doesn’t help much, with 12 or 13 of the 16 institutions in this lower range.

American’s confidence (aka trust) in these institutions shows continued declines.
American’s confidence (aka trust) in these institutions shows continued declines.

While this downward trend appears both significant and troubling, I can’t help but ask whether what is being reflected here is really trust/confidence, and not the general decline in national mood about, well, almost everything. As you may have noticed, our world has been going through several truly bad years. And still getting worse – especially in 2024 – as I concluded in a recent post.

Is the Gallup institution confidence profile telling a different story?

My sense, as an old data guy, is that the profile is probably a decent picture of our relative trust/confidence across the 16 institutions. It may however also be reflecting the dismal mood of the country about so many things today. The Gallup list then may be more of a “… who can we blame for all of our current mess?”

People today are very angry, frustrated. So much is messed up and nobody in power seems to be able to fix things. The institutions listed are certainly centers of immense power. If anyone can “fix things”, the leaders of these power centers are the most likely. The leaders in many cases appear to be fixing things only for the benefit of themselves and their cronies.

If this conjecture is valid, then the trust/confidence ratings reflect great dissatisfaction with our leaders and their institutions in their fixing-things performance. The ratings may have little to do with whatever people believe and expect about what each institution’s actual purpose and performance is. It is mostly about the failure of powerful leaders to lead in broader ways.

The profile in relative terms is an awful report card on national leadership performance. It also suggests where people are most likely to point the finger, to assign blame. Big business and Congress are surely top candidates for anger and for blame assignments.

So, this may mean that our primary institutions are actually doing a pretty decent or okay job on whatever it is that they are supposed to do. The institutions themselves don’t need fixing in general. It is the leadership that has failed, but not in leading their institutions.

The leadership failure here is about the social responsibility of powerful, highly-paid people to use their immense power and resources at national and state levels for the benefit of us normal folks.

The Edelman Trust Barometer

You might not be at all aware of this annual report on trust. I stumbled across it some time ago, and gave it another look after drafting the above conclusions. It appears that Edelman shares my gut concerns about what is really going on. Of course, their focus is consulting (see Related Reading below), so they obviously think business needs to play a greater role in building trust. Despite their understandably-biased viewpoint, I think that they are largely correct in their take on what’s actually going on. A few clips from various reports.

2021 Edelman Trust Barometer:
“After a year of unprecedented disaster and turbulence—the Covid-19 pandemic and economic crisis, the global outcry over systemic racism and political instability—the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals an epidemic of misinformation and widespread mistrust of societal institutions and leaders around the world. Adding to this is a failing trust ecosystem unable to confront the rampant infodemic, leaving the four institutions—business, government, NGOs and media—in an environment of information bankruptcy and a mandate to rebuild trust and chart a new path forward.”

2022 Edelman Trust Barometer:
Distrust is now society’s default emotion. Nearly 6 in 10 say their default tendency is to distrust something until they see evidence it is trustworthy. Another 64% say it’s now to a point where people are incapable of having constructive and civil debates about issues they disagree on. When distrust is the default – we lack the ability to debate or collaborate.”

There is a collapse of Trust in democracies.  In many of the democracies studied, institutions are trusted by less than half of their people, including only 46 pts in Germany, 45 pts in Spain, 44 pts in the UK and 43 pts in the U.S. Moreover, no developed countries believe their families and self will be better in 5-years.”

Societal fears on the rise. Without faith that our institutions will provide solutions or societal leadership, societal fears are becoming more acute. Most notably, 85% are worried about job loss and 75% worry about climate change.”

Societal leadership is now a core function of business. When considering a job, 60% of employees want their CEO to speak out on controversial issues they care about and 80% of the general population want CEOs to be personally visible when discussing public policy with external stakeholders or work their company has done to benefit society. In particular, CEOs are expected to shape conversation and policy on jobs and the economy (76%), wage inequity (73%), technology and automation (74%) and global warming and climate change (68%).”

2023 Edelman Trust Barometer:
“The 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer is the firm’s 23rd annual trust and credibility survey. The research was produced by the Edelman Trust Institute and consisted of 30-minute online interviews conducted between November 1st and November 28th, 2022. The 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer online survey sampled more than 32,000 respondents across 28 countries.”

Vicious cycle of distrust fueled by government and media. We find a world ensnared in a vicious cycle of distrust, fueled by a growing lack of faith in media and government. Through disinformation and division, these two institutions are feeding the cycle and exploiting it for commercial and political gain. Nearly 1 out of 2 respondents view government and media as divisive forces in society.”

Business’ societal role is here to stay. We see an even greater expectation of business to lead as trust in government continues to spiral. But this is not a job business can do on its own. Business must work with all institutions to foster innovation and drive impact. On climate: 52%; on economy: 49%; on workforce: 46%.”

The World Economic Forum (WEF) needs trust

Leading the globalist charge for almost everything globalists could wish for is the WEF, a creature of CEO/founder Klaus Schwab. Although organized in 1971, the WEF has become a true powerhouse of globalist ambitions, resources, and reach mostly over the past 30 years.

Klaus Schwab, in his finest global ruler and Bond-villain uniform.
Klaus Schwab, in his finest global ruler and Bond-villain uniform.

The WEF is deeply involved with other globalist entities like the United Nations (UN), its World Health Organization (WHO) agency, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the BIS, and hordes of supporters and wannabes. They are pretty close to succeeding in their basic aims so far as I can see.

They appear however to have an ongoing “trust” problem. Why wouldn’t most people trust these self-proclaimed world dominators? Could it be that most people don’t want to be ruled by a relative handful of enormously ambitious, ruthless, power-hungry tyrants-in-waiting?

The WEF clearly has a trust problem since they featured the Edelman Trust Barometer in the WEF Davo meeting a year ago:

“The 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer is the 23rd edition of the trust and credibility survey:

➧ A lack of trust – driven by economic anxiety, disinformation, mass-class divide and leadership failures – has left us polarized.

➧ The report’s authors suggest 4 steps as a way forward to restoring trust.

➧ The findings of the 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer paint a concerning picture. Economic optimism has fallen dramatically, with just 40% of respondents saying they and their families will be better off in five years. This represents a 10-point decline from 2022, and down from 53% in 2019.”

“Distrust has also fueled polarization, Edelman reports. Few people would help, live near, or work with someone who disagreed with their view on something.”

“So what can be done? The report highlights 4 steps as a ‘way forward’:

#1. Business is expected to act.
As the most trusted institution, business should use this to inform debate and help deliver solutions on a range of issues from climate, skills to diversity, equity and inclusion.

#2. Collaborate with government.
By working together, business and government can help build consensus and collaborate to deliver results.

#3. Restore economic optimism.
To address the mass-class divide and the ongoing cycle of polarization, the report says the investment is needed in fair compensation, training, and local communities.

#4. Advocate for truth.
Be sure to be a source of reliable information, promote civil discourse, and hold those who spread false information to account.”

The last item, if at all truthful, should have been labeled “Advocate for our truth – or else”.

Lack of trust and (lack of) public action

At this point, I am left wondering where all of the low and still declining trust in our major institutions may be heading. Lots of grumbling, as always, but not much action except by various flavors of activists for-and-against almost everything.

What about Congress? With its amazingly high 8% trust rating. Why can’t we throw the Congress-bums out, and elect some new bums – as the saying goes? Of course, the problem here is that government in general is the problem, not in any manner the solution.

These institutions are so deeply embedded today in virtually every society that they are unlikely to go away. They may officially “repurpose” themselves if they get into really bad trouble, but otherwise they are largely unchangeable.

Worse yet, they are (mostly) populated by humans with their human nature, which I have argued is also largely unchangeable (see here). The two strongest components of human nature are the need to belong and the general willingness to go-along-to-get-along. These often make us humans into “herds”, “mobs”, “crowds”, and more recently “mass formations”, which are much easier to control by strong leaders.

Human nature won’t change appreciably. Its social, political, and economic institutions won’t change appreciably either, except as driven by huge advances in technology. So, absent a big-nuke world war, things are likely to remain pretty much as they are, forever or longer.


Bottom line:

Trust aka confidence everywhere is being severely eroded. Our major institutions are not trusted by large majority. We are not in a trustless world, however. Trust is conditional and situation dependent. People will trust some things under some situations. It all gets very complex. We are still basically trusting beings.

Despite the rather horrible trust ratings from Gallup surveys, the interpretation they offer may be seriously faulty. More likely in my view is that the mistrust is mainly directed at leadership of these institutions. Social responsibility has become a big deal to very many people. Leaders are not doing an acceptable job on social matters.

And finally we have the Edelman Trust Barometer, which seems to confirm my reservations about leadership generally. Our leaders are regarded as mostly looking out for themselves rather than for us normal folk. Loss of trust belongs to our institutional leaders. They have failed many people in many ways.

  • Who is Edelman? From their website:

“Edelman is a global communications firm that partners with businesses and organizations to evolve, promote and protect their brands and reputations. Our 6,000 people in more than 60 offices deliver communications strategies that give our clients the confidence to lead and act with certainty, earning the trust of their stakeholders.”

“Since our founding in 1952, we have remained an independent, family-run business. Edelman owns specialty companies Edelman Data x Intelligence (research, data), Edelman Smithfield (financial communications), Edelman Global Advisory (advisory), and United Entertainment Group (entertainment, sports, lifestyle).”

“We have studied trust for more than 20 years and believe that it is the ultimate currency in the relationship that all institutions — business, governments, NGOs and media — build with their stakeholders. Trust defines an organization’s license to operate, lead and succeed. Trust is the foundation that allows an organization to take responsible risk, and, if it makes mistakes, to rebound from them. For a business, especially, lasting trust is the strongest insurance against competitive disruption, the antidote to consumer indifference, and the best path to continued growth. Without trust, credibility is lost and reputation can be threatened.”

“Edelman’s trust research, the Edelman Trust Barometer, turns the deep data we collect into real-world insights; our trust consulting platform, Edelman Trust Management, interprets those insights to help our clients plan, make decisions and take action; and our research institute and learning laboratory, Edelman Trust Institute, publishes data-driven insights that inform leadership, strategy, policy and sustained action across institutions.”

“Institutions are critical to our personal and societal well-being. They develop and disseminate knowledge, enforce the law, keep us healthy, shape labor relations, and uphold social and religious norms. But institutions and the people who lead them cannot fulfill their missions if they have lost legitimacy in the eyes of the people they are meant to serve.”

“Americans’ distrust of Congress is long-standing. What is less well-documented is how partisan polarization now aligns with the growing distrust of institutions once thought of as nonpolitical. Refusals to follow public health guidance about COVID-19, calls to defund the police, the rejection of election results, and disbelief of the press highlight the growing polarization of trust. But can these relationships be broken? And how does the polarization of trust affect institutions’ ability to confront shared problems, like climate change, epidemics, and economic collapse?”

Institutional Leaders Distrusted.
Government and media fuel cycle of distrust, seen as sources of misleading information.
Personal anxieties on par with existential fears.