Editorial: Want better democracy? Try a little more trust

  • Dennis Hess shows a video recording of a person he believes stole from his farm stand in Litiz, Pa. Hess runs an unattended farm stand on the honor system. Customers pick out their produce, tally their bills and drop the money into a slot, making change from an unlocked cashbox. Even though he added a video camera a few years ago, he says there isn't enough theft to undermine his trust in human nature.

    Dennis Hess shows a video recording of a person he believes stole from his farm stand in Litiz, Pa. Hess runs an unattended farm stand on the honor system. Customers pick out their produce, tally their bills and drop the money into a slot, making change from an unlocked cashbox. Even though he added a video camera a few years ago, he says there isn't enough theft to undermine his trust in human nature. Associated Press Photo

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted12/5/2013 5:00 AM

Do you count your change in the fast-food drive-through lane?

Have you ever done a background check on a potential suitor?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Do you turn on a nanny cam when you leave the kids with a sitter?

Don't beat yourself up if you do. You're definitely not alone.

An AP-GfK poll conducted last month suggests that two out of three of us believe most people can't be trusted, according to an Associated Press story that ran earlier this week.

It wasn't always this grim.

Forty years ago, just half of us felt that way, when the question was first posed in the General Social Survey.

What's happened to us in the intervening four decades to make us so more distrusting? Is it because we're not viewed as trustworthy ourselves? Are we just cynical about everything? Or are there just more ways to take advantage of people today than in the 1970s?

It's probably some complicated stew of all of those things.

April Clark, a Purdue University political scientist and public opinion researcher, told the AP that our feelings toward each other affect larger issues, starting with how we interact with one another and going as far as diverting our energies from getting things done as a democracy. Any good democracy has a basic team spirit at the heart of it.

It's easy to see on a macro level how a general level of distrust among legislators can quickly create gridlock for the state and nation.

Trust promotes economic growth; distrust makes us spend time and money to protect ourselves.

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Sure, in the 1970s you didn't have to worry about identity theft nearly as much as you do today. Nor did you feel like your every action was being monitored or recorded.

Electronic banking, Internet commerce and a raft of other anonymous transactions that we make regularly, coupled with increased levels of monitoring -- traffic and surveillance cameras, iPass, consumer profiling and the like -- make our lives a lot less private than they were. It's no small wonder we're a bit paranoid.

At fault, too, is how insular many of us have become. We work, play and communicate increasingly through electronic devices. Much of our interaction is with machines rather than people.

Realizing all of this is the first step in turning it around.

So call more, text less. Better yet, walk to your co-worker and talk face to face. Visit with your neighbors. Just get out and interact with people.

Learn to give up some of the unreasonable everyday skepticism and save it for the really important stuff -- like protecting your bank account.

Show a little more trust in people, and maybe they'll do the same for you.

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