So Much Comes Down to Trust

It Seems a Rare Commodity These Days. That Hurts Us All


First of a Two-Part Commentary

Let’s take a bit of time to talk about trust. Today, the general nature and specific outcomes from whether we have trust or not. Later in the week, we will talk a bit about how this is being reflected in the workplace and in other gatherings. Some important rumblings are happening that we should take account of, and address.

Trust as An Essential Social Element

A lot has been written of late about the element of social trust perhaps being another long-term casualty of the pandemic. People have been isolated so much for so long, that what I refer to as the casual level of trust, the unspoken but widespread level of trust we have among each other, has been damaged. Maybe it is just rusty, but the evidence seems to be building that something more fundamental is going on now.

We most often think about trust in terms of our primary relationships, around bigger issues. But there is what sociologists refer to as weak link trust that is at least as important in a functioning society. Weak link is an unfortunate term, makes it sound secondary, but that is not the case. It simply refers to casual acquaintances, the guy you buy coffee from every day on the way to work, people you recognize but aren’t really friends with at work, etc.

It turns out that in well-functioning societies, we assume a certain amount of trust in these casual relationships and that trust can be vital. One striking example came out in a study some years ago, when it was discovered that among a large group of people who had recently found much better jobs than they held previously, the vast majority got a tip or a lead to that job from one of their weak link associates.

Something was surfaced in casual conversation that was followed up on, with good results. In other words, someone thought to share some information, someone else took it as valuable information and acted accordingly. Both elements reflected a level of social trust.

Is This Level of Trust a Victim of the Pandemic?

Well, yes and no. It surely is an outcome of the pandemic. Just as we have observed much more antisocial behavior, even violent conduct on airplanes and in public places, so too have we seen what appears to be a growing trend toward assuming the worst in others motives and actions. The isolation took a toll.

But I think the case can be made that much of this started in the Reagan era. You will no doubt remember his famous line, “Government is not the solution to the problem. Government is the problem.” This was not the healthy skepticism always appropriate to citizens. This was a near theological position that said government was essentially a bad thing.

This was, and is, nonsense. Having spent decades of my life in government, in business, and in the nonprofit sector (Did I mention that I am an old guy? Damn, that is a lot of experience…) and I can confidently state that every one of those sectors offers valuable solutions – and rampant screw ups. Government, perhaps more than anything else, binds us as a community in large and practical ways. But Reagan and his followers taught generations just the opposite and trained them to never trust their own government. Polling over the years shows the effect.

This laid the fertile groundwork for the Tea Party, for Trumpism, and for QANON. People who trust nothing institutional will be suckers for conspiracy theories at levels otherwise unimaginable. So, the process has been a long one, only capstoned by the pandemic.

Can We Fix This?

I frankly don’t know if we can, or how we can, but we certainly need to try. I do not see us diminishing the dangerous levels of division and outright rejection of each other without some improvement in our social graces and readiness to assume at least neutral, if not positive, aspects of other people and institutions.

Friday we will take a look at changes in the workplace and social/issues gatherings that make fixing this all the more challenging.

              Bill Clontz

If you find this blog worthy of your time and curiosity, I invite you to do three things:

(1) Join the conversation. Your voice counts here. If you wish to share COMMENTS anonymously, make the last word in your comment “PRIVATE.” I will assure your privacy via anonymity.

(2) Share the word about this post with friends and colleagues. Share a link in your emails and social media posts (

(3) You are welcome to share this post with anyone. It is easy to pass on via email, of course, but also on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus, or Reddit; simply click on the links for these services at the end of this article.

Let’s grow our circle.


1 reply to So Much Comes Down to Trust

  1. The Reagan era led to some really hinky results. Almost as bad as the Trump administration debacle.

Your Turn to Comment