I’ve been to a couple of events this week that have got me thinking about trust.
The first was called No Dust and was billed as an evening of conversation around the referendum outcome, admonishing us not to let the dust settle on Brexit. It was an evening of two halves with the first given over to the feelings the result evoked, high points (for me) being:
- Annie King-Ferguson, a 16-year-old poet – she played an original song conveying her frustration at her ineligibility to vote and have her voice be represented in the outcome;
- Andra Sonea, a Romanian technologist and blogger living in the UK who shared some parallels between the Brexit movement and what has played out in the country of her birth.
The second half was shorter with the best part being the three speakers who explored post-Brexit possibilities. This included reconstructing government and looking to digital technologies to define new paths for democracy. Both of these were with the aim of getting the entire nation to be part of an ongoing conversation about the future, not just whenever a referendum is called.
The evening felt quite unbalanced with litanies of stories and ‘evidence-producing’ over-running in the first half because people wanted to finish ‘their say’ regardless of time which left me pretty low on energy and enthusiasm for the remainder of the evening. It also left me wondering just how much was true, how much selective editing was involved and if there was actually anyone, anything or even anywhere I would trust to give me the whole story.
The second was a networking event and forum later in the week where we asked whether it was possible to rebuild trust beyond the lies and scandals that have become our daily news fodder. The evening covered war, big business and finding purpose and the three speakers were invited to give a ten minute perspective before questions were invited from the audience. The pursuit of trust has become a vocal ambition for politicians, business leaders – in fact anyone with a public platform – and as with all big questions like this, there was no clear answer.
Add to this our tendency towards self-diagnosis rather than trusting the advice of the medical profession, our tut-tutting at Punch-and-Judy politics whilst hearing only the loudest or most familiar voice/s in the argument and our smug self-righteousness over stories of ‘privilege gone wrong’ (e.g. Ryan Lochte) like we all knew better than to believe his story. It seems that society’s latest scion is cynicism.
I don’t think that this is a bad thing. The amount of information available to us across a myriad of channels, apps and devices gives us unprecedented access to facts (and a whole lot more) right at our fingertips, letting us discover as much or as little as we wish to in the moment of our ‘burning question’. And a healthy questioning of the status quo seems to do some good. But how do we really know whether the information is accurate and/or complete…and when enough information is enough?
Which leads me to my question about trust.
The Oxford Dictionary defines trust as:
Firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something
But where does this firm belief come from? It seems to be a result of our past, coming from what we have experienced before and what we think we know. But it also seems to come with conditions.
I trust different people in my life for different things – to do this or be this or provide this and they no doubt trust me for some things and not others in return. For example, I trust some people to be on time while others I ‘know’ will always be late.
I also trust repetition. I trust that I’ll get paid each month yet given there have been times in my life where this wasn’t the case, what makes me trust this now, like it’s some kind of inexorable truth? For the most part it has to do with the fact that this event has been repeating itself every month for the last five and a half years.
I think trust is conditional and of the moment. I trust certain magazines and news sources but am not surprised when fault lines appear. I do not see trust as some universal panacea to righting the world’s ills. I am a cynic – or a realist – and my trust needs to be earned over and over again.
So we assign trust and the conditions that go with it as we define and refine our relationships with the world: With our family and friends, our colleagues, the organisations we work for and deal with and our paragons of both virtue and villainy.
But I’m still left with a question of accounting. Who or what should we trust in a world that provides more data and arguably more transparency than ever before but struggles with being accountable for telling the truth?
And how on earth do we judge when enough is enough – when it’s time to stop the fact-finding and trust that it will all turn out?