Best thing about trust is that it reduces complexity. Let me give you an old-fashioned example here. Imagine yourself getting married. You buy a house and a Golden Retriever but spend every single day wondering whether you can trust your wife (I did warn you it is an old-fashioned, sexist example put here to subconsciously reinforce traditional gender roles and preserve patriarchal social structures).
So imagine yourself living in constant fear of finding out ‘the thing’. One day you finally find out your partner has been cheating on you and end up wondering if you can ever fully trust your cheating spouse again. The cycle of lying and distrust repeats itself over and over until your divorce is final.
Imagine another marriage with your wife still cheating but you reacting differently. Instead of running around in circles, tearing your hair out or hiring a private detective to tail her you trust her and live happily ever after. If truth does come out eventually you start with a clean slate, accept the apologies and know that trust will heal in time and things will get better.
Well, you don’t actually need yoga or Zen (or whatever it is that works for you) to get the idea – trust simplifies everything. You propose, you buy a house and a Golden Retriever, you have kids and keep living your life based on unconditional love, acceptance and trust. Because it is easier for everyone.
Same thing works with societies. As Niklas Luhmann puts it in his ‘Trust and Power’, trust is a mechanism for reducing social complexity. When attributed to relations within and between social groups, trusting behavior allows more alternatives for action in the face of risk and uncertainty. Question is, how do you build trust?
In Luhmann’s theory, in order to be persistent trusting behavior presupposes that the previous stages of familiarity and confidence do not lapse into disappointments. Now, for the media world that’s certainly a hard thing to do.
Few years ago British Journalism Review conducted a survey of public confidence finding our trust (in journalism and in general) in decline.
In September 2010 Roy Greenslade in his blog for the Guardian said that ‘according to a survey conducted by YouGov for Pospect Magazine, there has been a noticeable slide in public trust of journalists since 2003’.
However, latest survey by Edelman Trust (brilliantly analyzed by Polly Curtis in her Reality Check last week) revealed that ‘while people in the UK are increasingly skeptical about politicians and business leaders, the opposite is true of the media’.
Media world has gone through many ups and downs and when figures like these go up you can safely expect them to go down in a month or two (should Operation Elvenden, for example, bring us more unexpected facts and revelations). As Alan Rusbridger said in his Hugo Young Lecture back in 2005, ‘all surveys on trust in British newspapers make gloomy reading’.
What is more important is that should the expectations lapse into disappointments reduction of social complexity would happen in the form of distrust, and while media world is being shaken again I bet family doctors and schoolteachers still top the list of most trusted professions as they did in 2008. What is it about these people that makes us trust them? Well, the answer is far too obvious – they don’t lie and don’t break the law. Now just follow the good advice you are given, and drink your remedy in silence and tranquility.
PS. Thanks to Alex!