Monday, September 1, 2008

Can We Trust "Trust"

What is trust? Trust is a universal relationship we have with people and situations in the world. Most of the time, we make exchanges with other people without having full knowledge about their intentions. When we “trust” someone it means that we believe in their honesty, benevolence, and competency even though we don't have certain knowledge that they have those qualities.

An important aspect of trust in relationships is delayed reciprocity. We do things for other people without expecting immediate gain from doing so. We trust that eventually our good deeds will get back to us. But we don't really know if and when that will be. This is how society works. Mutual trust is a kind of “social glue” that creates a sense of community and makes it easier for people to work together.

Trust is an essential part of many kinds of relationships – in love, friendship, and companionship, for example. We can relax and feel comfortable with people we trust. When we trust a situation we say “I feel at home”.

The opposite of trust is hostility, hatred, fear, and paranoia. In these cases we do not trust others because we believe that they are either incompetent or they mean us harm. We do not trust strange situations, and we say that we do not feel at home there. Not enough trust leads to social isolation, breakdown and bloodshed.

Ironically this kind of situation can lead us to trust certain people and certain religious doctrines too much. People are attracted to religious cults because of fear and a desire for certainty. In a small group such as a cult a leader can demand and obtain blind obedience from his followers. The followers of Jim Jones committed mass suicide after he told them to drink cool-aid laced with cyanide.

The price we pay for absolute certainty is always too high. Too much trust is wrong because it prevents us from correcting course when we make mistakes. The more you concentrate trust in one leader, in one set of ideas, and in one book of Scriptures, the less trust you have in outsiders and new ideas. It is inevitable that everyone will make mistakes, and that many of our ideas will turn out to be wrong. If we put too much of our trust in particular people, groups, or ideas we will not be open to making corrections when reality contradicts what we thought was true. In extreme cases, people will refuse to hear information that contradicts what they believe and will do anything to suppress the information and attack the messenger. But if we make it impossible to learn from experience we will eventually end up destroying ourselves.

The problem with trust is inherent in all relationships. That which we trust can end up harming us. We trust in our food supply, but sometimes packaged meats that we buy in the grocery store can kill us, as happened recently with meat tainted with Lysteria. We trust that nature will be predictable and benevolent – supplying us with water, sunshine, warm temperatures and good soil for growing crops. But sometimes nature is not benevolent as we witness major earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, hurricanes, and forest fires. We trust in our parents or our minister, or teacher and the vast majority of the time we benefit from this trust. But sometimes our leaders breach our trust and exploit us physically or sexually.

We trust the “system”, but sometimes our political and economic systems let us down – if we are in the midst of a war, or live in a “failed state”, or if we are living through an economic depression, or hyperinflation. When enough bad things happen to us we can lose faith in society, grab a gun and head for the hills. This makes the world an even more dangerous place.

Today our deep trust in human progress has been broken by the prospect of human-induced climate change. Climate effects virtually everything on earth. It determines the temperature, the amount of rainfall, the amount of ice and glaciation, the length and character of the seasons, and even the sea level. It is ultimately what makes a place livable.

This particular breach of trust is too much for some people to handle which is why they've ended up denying global warming. That our industrial civilization is accelerating global warming means that we can no longer trust our technology and economic systems to make the world a better place. It means that we have to get off our butts and help change the direction our society is going before its too late.

No comments:

Post a Comment