Broken Trust Threatens Our Lives and Cultures
In our module on Integrity, our Cross-Current groups learn about recent findings on the problems that today’s world has with trust. From the 2019 figures of the Edelman Trust Barometer, we learn that people’s sense of injustice and desire for change are shared by 70 to 76% of the people in the 28 countries studied. Government and media are not trusted by the majority of the population.
These significant findings are only a limited reflection of things that happen at a wider level in our societies and cultures, and it is important to realise how much broken trust is a constitutive condition of our broken world─if we wish, as we should, to better understand the significance of that brokenness being healed. Behind the rise of populism and polarisation in Western politics and societies, experts agree that its roots are to be found in a major crisis of trust. Several sociologists and political scientists─and I agree with them─will even say that, before viewing populism as a political phenomenon, which it is, we need to see that populism is first a social phenomenon: a situation of broken trust in, and broken credibility of, current representative institutions and systems.
That is also visible in how we behave during elections. An increasing number of citizens show that they have stopped trusting the established institutions and ways of organising society. They don’t want to comply with the ‘traditional’ voting recommendations; they refuse to play that game and engage in ‘electoral insurrection’ by giving the system a middle finger.
At a community level, humans have always had issues with trust, it seems. It has become conventional wisdom to remind that the bloodiest conflicts Europe─and the world─have experienced in human history are fundamentally based on a lack of trust. Yet we should never tire of realising again and again how destructive trustlessness can be─and how much rebuilding trust can not only repair individual relationships, but also heal society at a community level. After the Second World War, trust was the central concern of political figures like Robert Schuman (who was the French Foreign Affairs Minister) and Konrad Adenauer (who was the West-German Chancellor, i.e. Prime Minister). They understood that distrust among populations was the fuel of hatred and destruction and, out of a decidedly Christian reasoning, they strongly supported the idea that building multi-level interdependence between nations would force populations to build trust and therefore peace, solidarity and welfare. This was the beginning of the European Project, which led to the European Union.
Indeed, if we look at the historical and sociological reasons why twentieth-century mass killings and wars were so deadly, we will also understand that the current crisis of trust which experts are noticing year after year should cause us to pause and think. In the next issue of WorkWise, we will see that biblical spirituality is especially relevant to understand broken trust and provide us with resources to act against the chaos it causes in our lives and in our world, beginning with our personal and professional lives.