Trust connotes many things. In one sense it speaks to the history we’ve had with other people when we say things like my experience shows he/she can be trusted. In another it reflects aspirations about one’s self in statements like I trust that I’d do the right thing if faced with that situation. An in yet another we often hear people say I trust things will workout for the better.
Though trust is related to notions of reliability, confidence, belief, faith and hope or expectation underlying these is the role trust plays in human development. It speaks to our need to counter balance an ever-present characteristic of our world, uncertainty. Consequently trust is the means of bringing a sense of order to an uncertain environment. Accordingly, when we are in an environment absent of trust, one wherein mistrust abounds, increasingly dis-ease overcomes us. Why is this so?
We Are Deficient
Before we can develop into the person we potentially are (i.e. self-actualize), we must realize satisfaction of our most basic needs; those for which we are at base unable to satisfy on our own. Instinct and nature don’t provide us with the methods and means to satisfy our essential human needs. Abraham Maslow brought these shared inherent deficient needs to light through his hierarchy of needs. As Maslow claimed, “the needs for safety, belongingness, love relations and for respect can be satisfied only by other people.”
These base level needs are ones dependent upon the social, political and economic environment (as opposed to one’s own inner being) as the source for their satisfaction. We must have trust that others will contribute to the satisfaction of these needs.
When our basic needs go unmet and our meeting them remains in doubt, then it is very difficult for us to realize progress toward self-directedness and self-actualization, which primarily unfold from the inner depths of our being. Moreover, if the satisfaction of these basic needs is constantly in doubt, thus leading people to not trust their environment to help, then according to Maslow people become anxious, afraid and hostile. That is, absent of a trusting environment people become stuck in these negative energy fields and thus are not free to be and become what they potentially can be; we literally become trapped in a vicious negative reinforcing cycle.
For example people who are not accepted by others and/or who are isolated from others, have a greater likelihood of committing acts of destruction against others. Generally, in an environment of mistrust individuals tend toward destructive ways of being-in-the-world that ultimately diminishes their sense of connectedness and community with others.
Predators and Prey
This is good news for predators preying on the vulnerable through manipulative and exploitative schemes. However, because a trusting environment supporting the satisfaction of peoples’ deficiency needs reduces the availability of prey, it is understandable why those seeking to manipulate and exploit others would create environments and circumstances wherein the satisfaction of peoples’ needs is made conditional. In such an environment fear that their needs won’t be met will inevitably emerge, lengthening the lever and making manipulation that much easier.
In the political arena creating fear of a bogyman is the tact of the handmaidens of parasites of society we euphemistically call special interest. Appealing to the passions and prejudices of people, politicians play on the fears and emotions of an unsuspecting public for the benefit of those paying their way to public office. As a result there is a greater chance of one being struck by lightening than being presented with the choice to vote for a trustworthy candidate. When we so desperately need statesmen and stateswomen, all that is offered are demagogues.
In some business organizations, rather than enabling others to fully exercise their capabilities, the common practice is to keep people in doubt and off balance through fear-based (i.e. carrot-and-stick) methods, such as the annual performance appraisal. This procedure rests on the falsehood that the independent contribution of each individual is quantifiable and knowable—talk about generating fear—and on the theory of operant conditioning, a psychology applicable to laboratory rats. Contrary to this stimulus-response theory that underlies carrot-and-stick methods, unlike lab rats, people are consciously aware beings with far more than reactive capabilities. Consequently, in an effort to limit and control people’s actions by treating them as if they are capable of just reactive behavior, management methods based on this theory makes the satisfaction of needs conditional thus creating more uncertainty.
How is it that so many come to believe that they can actually control others when they can’t even control their very own thoughts? Yes people do have thoughts of their very own, even if they don’t hold positions of authority!
If an organization’s success rests on the cooperation and collaboration among its members—in pursuit of synergy—then wouldn’t helpful relationships prove more productive than competitive (sink or swim on your own) relationships? What could be better than engendering a sense of interdependence and partnership based on trust? The capability emerging from the synergy in partnership far exceeds the sum of each person fending for him/her self—moreover the negative interactions would diminish the sum as well. The basis of the necessary conditions—satisfying needs such as trust, respect, and honesty—that make for productive relationships and from which synergy emerges is diminished by fear. Fear has no productive role to play.
Why Fear and Not Trust
Why is enacting fear so prominent? Could it be that those in authority are also fearful? Fearful that if they don’t limit and control others they will loose a degree of certainty—assuming of course that they actually are in control. In other words, is it because those in authority positions (not understanding our need to minimize uncertainty) mistakenly believe that they should employ fear (rather than trust) as a means of satisfying their need for certainty? What is clear is the more such practices are used the less likely humanly productive relationships will develop, and the greater the uncertainty realized.
Although trust is so critical to our wellbeing, fear is the lever many people use to move others in the direction they wish them to go. Even though fear clouds perception, limits understanding and promotes either/or thinking—clearly not a recipe for healthy growth and development—it does make it easier to herd people (toward their own destruction) in service to the interests of those playing upon fear!
While many may view fear as an easy and effective way to get people to do as one wishes them to do, it equates to treating people in an instrumental way, as objects in service to one’s own gain—it is a dehumanizing tool. Also the use of fear requires so little engagement and understanding on the part of the one employing it: It can be done at a distance thus avoiding any complications and dilemmas arising with trust-based relationships. That is, if one relates to others core-to-core, such relationships would diminish the likelihood of one using fear-laden practices on them. Clearly, trust disables fear!
Heed Deming’s Advice
I’m reminded of Deming’s insightful point #8 of his 14 points, Drive Out Fear, that many to this day turn a deaf ear. How so many can continue in their ways without ever questioning their actions toward improvement is astounding—yet so many expect others to improve! Oh the stories we tell ourselves to justify the actions we’ve come accustom to taking—never mind that justification is all about belief not evidence and truth.
Our lives are inextricably and deeply inter-connected. We are not independent individuals but rather reciprocally interdependent human beings. This deep connection requires being trustworthy and trusting others. It is not only because what you do impacts others, it is also because what others do impacts you—you actually need others’ help and support if you are to actualize the potential that lies within.
Developing and maintaining trusting relationships is part and parcel to the stewardship imperative—internally acknowledging our ‘I-WE’ nature and the corresponding dual responsibility—inherent in being human. Therefore we each must step up to the responsibility of making this world in which we co-exist and co-evolve an increasingly more human world. We need to be more human, our organizations need to promote this and so too must our institutions (e.g. education, government) if each of us is to actualize our potential.
Although self-actualization is largely an inside-out process, the way to self-directedness is through the help of other people. Belief in the idea that you’re on your own is foolishness and doesn’t lead to self-directness! It follows that we must be able to trust that others will help toward the satisfaction of our most essential human needs if we are to engage in actions that will satisfy our inner most need to self-actualize.
Yet, when what we need is trust, all that we are offered are reasons to be more fearful—increasing uncertainty—which keeps us off balance and contentious making us easy prey. So today we find the degree of trust people have in others, in elected officials, and generally in society’s institutions to be quite low. No wonder we are so hostile to those who are not exactly like us for they increase our sense of uncertainty—or so we are told.
We cannot become the human beings we potentially are without trust. Trusting and being trustworthy are essential for a humanly productive environment—organizationally, institutionally and as a society. Human progress through a self-actualized populace should be the vision and means of human society. It all rests on realizing humanly productive relationships through trust.
If we truly desire a better society for future generations, then we each must transcend self-interest. If we truly desire a better society, then what’s in it for ‘me’ can no longer be! Me looking out for number 1 is just too narrow of a concern; so too are the concerns of special interest. Euphemistically you can call selfishness what you will—self-interest, special interest—it is still a narrow self-concern that communicates little to no concern for ‘I-We’. You (and I) need a vibrant ‘WE’ to be all we can be! Developing ‘We’ rests on trust, so to this end we each need to enact it! And why should we do this? Because our development depends on it!