Virtues of Government Service: Number 9 – Trust

Truth will ultimately prevail where there is (sic) pains taken to bring it to light.”

President George Washington

Trust, Truth and Trustworthiness – It Matters:  True or False?

Trust is a choice. We choose to trust someone because we judge them to be trustworthy. Every day, we make choices that determine our personal trustworthiness. Based on these choices and related behaviors, others choose to trust or may distrust us. Trust must be earned.

Most people feel that trust is good. We grow up believing that speaking the truth is good and lying is bad. Everything is made much more difficult and even dangerous when lack of trust abounds. But, sometimes, we take short-cuts, tell white-lies and act in a manner non-harmonious with our ideals. The old expression, “we judge others by their actions and ourselves by our intentions” comes to mind. Why? Because, ultimately, it’s our behavior that determines our trustworthiness.  I have heard said, “Your actions speak so loud, I can’t hear a word you say.” Powerful words.

High-performing teams and organizations are admired because they are creative and innovative are characterized by trusting cultures. That’s a fact. So, to answer the rhetorical question – “Does trust matter?” – the answer for all non-pathological members of society is, you guessed it, unequivocally, “Yes”.

To Thine Own Self be True – Corny & Cliché?

 Shakespeare wrote;

 “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” 

While students of Shakespeare note the irony of the speaker of those words, taken at face value, they’re solid. The first person the liar hurts is himself or herself.

One of the world’s celebrated neuroscientists, Abhijit Naskar, the author of numerous books including “The Art of Neuroscience in Everything” writes also on mental wellness and global harmony.  In “Love, God & Neurons” he says; “Be excellent in your own terms. Do not look for approval from a single soul on this planet. Respect yourself and in time the whole world will respect you. It is a tragedy of modern life that the light of truth scares the society much more than the darkness of ignorance.”

Can Truth Survive this President?

“We’re an empire now, and when we act we create our own reality.”

Carlos Lozada, writing in the July 15, 2018, Washington Post on the eve of President Trump’s “summit” with President Putin, wasn’t referring to the current administration.  He was quoting a George W. Bush top advisor.  So, those who find themselves concerned about any particular political personality can take some encouragement that the Nation is resilient. But we must have the courage of our convictions.  This means doing the research, getting the facts right, and expressing our feelings and beliefs, as is our right.

The Truth Shall Prevail

Yes, the truth shall prevail. But each of us must do our part. In the face of what appears to be defeat, each of us must be stronger, hold ourselves to a higher standard and not fall into the low traps of falsehood for the sake of ease or economy.  Truth needs champions.  But how do we make ourselves stronger, more truthful and inspire others to do likewise?

Defining, Building and Earning Trust

When judging trustworthiness, if that’s the aim, systems of accountability don’t work. This is because giving someone (or organization) trust is an emotional decision. We must control those emotions and use logic. Sometimes it’s difficult but we must try NOT to trust the untrustworthy, as compelling as their words may sound. Use your judgment. If their words and actions prove that they are not, in fact, worthy of your trust, do not honor them with your trust. Try NOT to trust the untrustworthy. Instead, work on self. How so? Try to be as competent, honest and reliable as humanly possible.

Do objective criteria exist for measuring trust? The Positive Psychology Program suggests four factors to use to define a trusting relationship. Here’s a summary:

  1. Values – A common set of values contribute to a mutual recognition of priorities.
  2. Integrity – In short, this is the honesty and consistency in a relationship.
  3. Mutuality – This refers to the idea of working as a team, going in the same direction.
  4. Commitment – Loyalty, stability and predictability all of which build trust.

To build trust, consider the following:

  1. Stay honest. Easier said than done! A study reported in National Geographic indicated that, when asked to honestly reply, 90% of adults admitted to telling a lie in the past week. The rate was higher in teenagers! Use judgment but remember that generally speaking, withholding the full truth eventually tears individuals and organizations apart.
  2. Learn to communicate. Encourage honest, constructive communication… don’t assume it. Start sharing some details of your life (avoid boasting) to help develop trust through mutual understanding.
  3. Moderate impulsive decision-making. Make sure relevant parties are considered and included in planning and decision-making. Keep your decisions in line with your values.

Government’s Role – Be a High Performer on a High Performing Team

Building a safe, harmonious society is our main evolutionary goal. Trust is a key condition for this. Sadly, the majority (about four out of five) of U.S. citizens distrust their own government (when “Government” is viewed as a monolith).  However, when asked about individual agencies, the majority (close to 80%) are favorably disposed!  (You’ll have to trust me on the numbers – remember figures lie and liars figure)!  I’m averaging the data I found on the internet (so it must be true!).  Since trust is central to any organization’s achievement of high performance and accomplishment, and high performance is number one on the government reform agenda, it is imperative that government overcome this trust deficit and work to build trust within its ranks.

Final Words on Trust, Concisely

If Ernest Hemingway knew anything, he knew how to write concisely.  Here’s his advice:

“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”

Words worthy of consideration.  I promise.

 Rick Pfautz is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.

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Nazli Cem

Really important points on how trust is important in building relationships — especially between citizens and governments. Thanks for the post!

Rick Pfautz

Thank you, Nazli. I agree with your point – trust is the core foundation for the relationship between citizens and governments and that trusting relationship is vital to improving our society.