Social Question

mattbrowne's avatar

How can we raise the levels of trust between people in our societies, our local communities, and our schools?

Asked by mattbrowne (31719points) January 12th, 2012

I find it astonishing that the levels of trust between people vary greatly in different countries. See

“Within the developed world, Danes are the most trusting people and Chileans the least.

Within the United States, just less than half of people expressed a high level of trust in others.

The relatively egalitarian Nordic countries like Denmark, for example, have high levels of trust. On the other hand, more unequal societies like Mexico and Turkey have relatively low levels of trust.”

Let’s take Fluther as an example of a community. How would you answer the following question?

“Generally speaking would you say that most people can be trusted or that you need to be very careful in dealing with people?”


What can be done to raise levels of trust in general?

And as an example, How can we raise the level of trust in the online community of Fluther?

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

35 Answers

bongo's avatar

When people stop making empty promises and doing what they say they will do. Also when people take a responsibility for their own actions and stop suing someone just for a slight crack in the pavement or e.g. a small medical mis-diagnosis – why dont you just get a second opinion instead (doctors are doing their best, by suing them you are only making it more expensive on yourself in the long run and taking what little patient time they have away from the patients – I am from the UK and referring to the NHS, I really feel sorry for them but have no understanding of the US health system). People dont trust other people as they are too busy covering their backs so they don’t get sued.

I am a very trusting person and however as I have more things stolen or as I am persecuted for no reason by other people it makes me less and less trusting which I really hate. If for example I was trying to help someone and doing my best and no one else was doing it but I failed and that person sued me that would definitely stop me from helping anyone else again just to cover my own back and survive.

Stop the suing culture and take responsibility for yourself is what I reckon!

On fluther I feel there is no issue in trust, I feel everyone trusts and respects other answers even if they dont always agree with them… but maybe I’m wrong, maybe im too trusting…

elbanditoroso's avatar

Trust happens after other things happen. Trust depends on several factors – and it only develops as a result of other successes and achievements.

For example:

- Common high-level goals. Opposing sides have to agree with the big big picture before we can begin to work with each other. We don’t have to agree with the solution – but we have to agree that (1) there is a problem, and (2) we want to solve it. If there isn’t that level of acknowledgment then there is no fertile ground for trust to begin to grow.

- Willingness to accept that others have opinions that may be legitimate. This is a huge stumbling block to trust. If the parties are so doctrinaire and closed minded that they refuse to acknowledge that the other guy might have a point, then you may as not even start the conversation. TO build trust, you have to accept that the other guys has legitimate interests and may have an approach which is different. Again, you don’t need to accept it, but you have to realize that the other side may have an approach or solution that you might consider.

- Realization that trust is built ultimately on compromise and good will. Said simply, imposing one decision on another party does not build trust. It builds resentment and suspicion. So if you want to build trust, you must implicitly acknowledge that compromised must be reached, not imposed.

mattbrowne's avatar

I’ve noticed that there are two approaches people seem to take:

1) They don’t trust other people until trust is earned
2) They trust other people until someone breaks this trust

I’m person number two and think it’s important to remind ourselves not to generalize if someone from a particular group breaks that trust. One abusive man does not mean men can’t be trusted or one dishonest woman does not mean women can’t be trusted. One CEO committing fraud does not mean all companies are run by dishonest CEOs. One politician breaking one promise does not mean he or she is breaking all promises. Same goes for doctors, teachers, plumbers, car mechanics and so forth.

I think for societies as a whole it’s important that we trust our public institutions. That’s a huge stumbling block in many countries. We need to think of ways to raise the level of trust.

bongo's avatar

I agree @mattbrowne however I feel that there is only so many times someone can have their trust broken before they loose it altogether. I have had too many things stolen from me this past year and I am not careless I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time or park my car in the wrong place etc. I still trust people and feel that without trust nothing would ever happen in the world as everyone would be too busy covering their own backs to get anything done. It doesn’t stop me from being that little bit more wary when someone is walking up behind me quickly when I am walking home in the dark or buying a security light to go over my car…
On an individual basis, however, I think it is very easy to loose your trust quickly with one particular person however I would never generalize to a specific sex/race/religion/career that all people of a particular type cannot be trusted!
I trust you until you screw me over. I have yet to be screwed over by someone I know and trust. That is maybe because they can rely on the fact that they can trust me too.

mattbrowne's avatar

Yes, I think it’s easy to lose trust quickly when this involves a strong emotional response, for example sharing very personal information not to be shared with anyone else. But these experiences are rare from my experience.

thorninmud's avatar

Trust comes more easily where there is a culture of shared purpose and cooperation.

Using online communities as an example, I frequented Askville before coming to Fluther; the culture was quite different there, mostly because there was a competitive element. Answers to Q’s were written without knowing what others had answered, or who had answered. Then, when all the answers were in, the answerers and the asker scored each of the answers and the highest score was awarded “Best Answer”. This set up a culture in which it was in was in the interests of each answerer to undercut the others and come out on top. There was a huge amount of distrust.

Here on Fluther, we have our share of ideological spats and ego sparring, but there is less of a sense that one gets ahead here by undercutting others. Here, there’s more to be gained by establishing friendly relationships.

bkcunningham's avatar

The “trust” portion of the study indicates two things; the perception of corruption and confidence in national institutions. @mattbrowne, where do I find the question in the actual study that was used in the article, “Generally speaking would you say that most people can be trusted or that you need to be very careful in dealing with people?”

Blackberry's avatar

I like @elbanditoroso‘s answer. We currently don’t have much compromise or trust in the gooodwill of the opposition. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t see much legitimacy or goodwill in the opposition, either.

Fluther is different because we’re smaller and agree on more.

elbanditoroso's avatar

@Blackberry – thanks.

I have a question about your last phrase – ”.....we’re smaller and agree on more”—

is that good or bad?

Do we run the risk of being incestuous in our general attitudes because we don’t have the diversity of opinion that other places do?

marinelife's avatar

When we can trust our public figures (which we can’t). When we can trust the process of public discourse, and when it is based on mutual respect.

I trust some people in the Fluther community, but not all. I think having blind trust in an online community would be idiocy.

LostInParadise's avatar

The question is a bit vague. If we observed Danes and Chileans, what behavioral differences would we be able to observe that indicate greater trustfulness on the part of the Danes? Do Danes leave their front doors open while Chileans lock their bedrooms?

Blackberry's avatar

@elbanditoroso Hmmm, I don’t know, because the opposition we do get is very extreme (gays aren’t natural). Even though there are many liberal-minded people, some of us still have conflict about certain things that make it so we’re not completely in unison.

One thing we forget about the Scandinavian countries (that are apparently the happiest with less religion and universal healthcare), is that they’re smaller and more homogenous.

Also, from what I’ve seen, some European countries are having “problems” with immigrants. Is this all a case of shunning outsiders due to their lack of assimilation? I would like to assume we’re past the tribal attitude, but maybe that has something to do with it.

But I do know if we got some new Flutherers that weren’t so extreme in their views, they would be welcome. But I personally am becoming less tolerant of intolerance.

JLeslie's avatar

@Blackberry In the case of the European countries is it the shunners fault or is it the fault of the people who are resistant to assimilate? Or, do you think everyone just needs to be more tolerant and accepting in general?

When it comes to the direction we want the country to go in, and what we think is best for the country and society, it seems to be it is difficult for people to compromise.

JLeslie's avatar

@mattbrowne I think @Blackberry is right that the scandanavian countries score well because they are so homogenous, race, religion, and they tend to trust their government to care about their well being and keep them safe.

If I were to stereotype based on personal experience, I would also say that lies and promises can be different culture to culture. I think there is more mistrust in the countries where people are more likely to not hold to what they say they will do, or who will promise something they cannot fulfill. It is difficult for me to explain, but a girlfriend of mine just had one of these situations at work, she works with Latin American women from various countries, and they flat out lie sometimes, and the manager, also Hispanic, defends the other woman as not being a liar, I will try to think of the recent example, but I can’t right now. They do go against specific instructions of when to clock in, and some other things, but non-Hispanics do that too as we know, but it is a series of things that demonstrates to my friend and me how they must define lie differently than us.

When I was getting married my husband’s father said he was going to give us his villa/townhouse in FL. For me that was incredibly extravagant. In his circles people often bought new homes for their children when they married. My husband had been paying the mortgage and many bills, and they had stopped sending money for the bills, which was how it had originally worked. Remember it is his parents villa, and my husband has been living there for college, but he had graduated by the time we met and started working, so he actually could cover the bills, but it included the monthly payment for the BMW they had bought him as their gift to him, that had a big monthly payment for my husband to have to pay just graduating (to be clear they bought it for him, he was not supposed to have to pay anything) and also paying for some other expenses that my husband was not even getting use of. Anyway, his mom started saying how tight their money was, she wasn’t sure how they could give us the villa, and on and on. My reaction was, I don’t expect anything, why are they promising things they cannot begin to do? I think they wanted to be able to do it, so in their mind it is not a lie? They don’t have any malicious intent, they want to give us things with the purest of intentions. But, from my end, they said they would do something and they didn’t. There is more than just this example, it is a pattern. Because I know them, and know their intention, I can deal with it and it is ok. But, if I was dealing with them at arms length or as business partners or even as friends, I don’t think I would accept how they think about these things.

Anyway, my point is I do think cultural factors influence our trust level, and I don’t mean only one cultural classing with another culture, but also within certain cultures there can be a legitimate unwillingness to trust what someone says.

I’m sure I’ll get blasted for stereotyping. I should add my husband obviously is from the same culture as his family and he has incredible integrity and honesty and generally deals within his reality. I am just making some generalizations, it does not apply to every single individual of course.

Blackberry's avatar

@JLeslie I don’t know what’s happening there so I’m not sure. I know a couple that is well off (in America, Washington state), but tells people they are from India instead of Pakistan because people became hateful semingly overnight after 9/11. They had to listen to co workers discussing ways to get rid of muslims and arabs (because you know, they’re all terrorists), but they were just fine because they’re from India, not one of the countries that kills Americans. Pssh!

I’ve seen articles about increased muslim immigration in some European countries, but I don’t know how well they’re receiving them.

JLeslie's avatar

@Blackberry From what I have gathered the European countries that took in Arab Muslim immigrants had what I would call an idealic attitude of tolerance and cultural openess, until some realities set in. I am not exactly sure what their specific expectations were, but I think there has been some difficulties with meshing the different cultures in instances.

The story about Washington state makes me sick. I hate to hear anyone living in the United States would feel they have to lie about the country they came from or their nationality. Thing is, were the people just talking in generalities, would they really treat that individual differently because he is from Pakistan?

JLeslie's avatar

@mattbrowne I wanted to add that I am not so mich as judging the other cultural norms I attempted to describe, but simply sayigpng how they define trust, promises, and lies is possibly different, which would affect the study you provided in several ways including possibly that they might answer a question differently because they infer a different meaning to the question being asked than someone from another culture.

Blackberry's avatar

@JLeslie After hearing the reactions and vitriol attitudes of co workers and people in general after 9/11, they decided to lie about where they were from.

augustlan's avatar

[mod says] This is our Question of the Day!

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

What is the reason you want to raise levels of trust? Trust isn’t what has kept us alive for centuries…that’s what you usually would say.

Blackberry's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir I also see trust as another form of faith, essentially. Although it is useful, it’s not very solid.

rooeytoo's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir – that is precisely what I was thinking as I read this question and the answers.

Also I don’t think anyone has touched on the fact that trust as diminished dramatically in my lifetime. The doors were never locked on the house where I grew up, now everyone has double locks. As children we played outside on summer nights well after dark, now no one lets their children out in broad daylight. I am not so much worried about trusting politicians as I am about trusting the guy across the street who has a gun or the druggie who wants my iPod or the teen ager who wants my running shoes.

How does that figure into your equation?

JLeslie's avatar

@Blackberry My opinion is I don’t think they should lie. The way people stop thinking “us and them” is by getting to know “them.” It’s easy to hate people and make ridiculous assumptions about people when we have zero experience with them and only hear negative information. I also would argue that many time minorities hear conversation meant for behind closed doors and misinterpret generalizations and slang being thrown around. At the same time, I tend to not mention I am atheist where I live now, so I can understand why they might feel compelled to lie.

Blackberry's avatar

@JLeslie Yeah, it’s like that. If it was that easy to get others to think with more reason instead of emotion society would already be different.

LostInParadise's avatar

Not to ruin a good discussion, but is mistrust a necessary prerequisite for intolerance? I know that fear of outsiders is one cause of intolerance, but is fear the same as mistrust? If someone believes rightly or wrongly, that immigrants are taking away jobs, I would not classify that as mistrust.

I think we are mixing up two related but distinct characteristics. If someone is mistrustful of a certain minority group but is trustful of most others, I would say the person was bigoted but not mistrustful.

JLeslie's avatar

@LostInParadise I don’t think the question was about immigration or racism or prejudice. It was about trust within a country and its own citizens/residents.

zensky's avatar

I trust everyone here. But then, we’re mostly anonymous and I’m 5000 miles away from most. I also do not need anything from anyone here. In general, though, I would say I am mostly a trusting person – and most people are trustworthy.

mattbrowne's avatar

@bkcunningham – The study was conducted by the OECD, a very trustworthy organization in my opinion. There’s an overview on their website, but I’m not sure whether the entire material is accessible to non-subscribers.

mattbrowne's avatar

@LostInParadise – Good question. I don’t think your conclusion about locking doors must necessarily correlate with the researchers findings.

Measuring trust levels can be done by asking thousands of people questions like ”“Generally speaking would you say that most people can be trusted or that you need to be very careful in dealing with people?” or it can be done by observing specific behavior like % of doors locked. I’m not an expert in doing these kind of social studies, but I’m concerned about a high percentage of people stating that in general other people can’t be trusted. I’m reading a book by Richard Layard and he printed a statistics of school children asked the trust question. The percentage was very low for UK schools and he wonders what can be done about this.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Blackberry – You wrote Is this all a case of shunning outsiders due to their lack of assimilation? I would like to assume we’re past the tribal attitude, but maybe that has something to do with it

A very large percentage of Europeans appreciate multiculturalism and large European cities and larger towns are not different from Manhattan in this respect. You encounter people with backgrounds from more than 100 countries. There is no expectation of assimilation, but there is the expectation of supporting the constitution and laws of a country. And a small minority try to create their own small country within a country. For example they think that the laws specified in the Quran and by the sharia are more important than the German or French constitution. This is where the problems begin and they have the potential to decrease trust. And it has nothing to do with Germans and French people being unable to overcome their “tribal nature”.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir – What is the reason I want to raise levels of trust? To counter individualism and increase the well-being of people and to build supportive, flourishing communities.

bkcunningham's avatar

I agree with you, @mattbrowne. The OECD is a very trustworthy organization. The question that Catherine Rampell, a writer for the New York Times, said is in the study is what I’m having a hard time finding. “Generally speaking would you say that most people can be trusted or that you need to be very careful in dealing with people?” I can’t find the question she said is asked in the data under “trust” as in Social Cohesion Indicators.

mattbrowne's avatar

@bkcunningham – I first heard of the OECD study in a book by Richard Layard and one of his chapters is dealing with changing trust levels over time, especially children. He discusses his findings with a reporter from the Guardian, see

I’m not sure about the exact question the researchers were using for the OECD study. It could well be a mix of questions and not just “Generally speaking would you say that most people can be trusted or that you need to be very careful in dealing with people?”

But let’s suppose the research was good and the findings are accurate: What can we do? That’s my question. How can trust levels be raised?

bkcunningham's avatar

Communication. Accountability. Involvement in community. Liberty.

Blackberry's avatar

@mattbrowne Seems acceptable to be upset about that, after all, it is going on in a lot of countries, and some aren’t even immigrants, they’re politicians lol.

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