The Trust Crisis

We find ourselves inundated by a deluge of opinions from both social media and traditional media outlets, raising a pressing question: whom can we trust? In times past, trust was placed in the words of the Government and the content of newspapers, which then shaped our perceptions of news programs. 

However, this era, or rather, error of trust, has come to an end. People today, and rightly so, are inclined to begin with a default position of scepticism and doubt toward the information they encounter. There was a time when one could rely on the authenticity of emails and text messages received from trusted entities such as banks or government institutions. Regrettably, scammers now prey upon our honesty and trustworthiness, luring unsuspecting recipients into divulging their personal and financial information, resulting in emptied bank accounts and stolen identities. This pervasive deception has eroded our faith in both physical and digital communications, as well as our trust in all types of organisations, including governments and media outlets.

This pervasive mistrust breeds uncertainty and a sense of aimlessness, becoming one of the most significant issues faced by societies worldwide. It fosters division and encourages the adoption of extreme viewpoints, gradually dismantling the cohesive fabric that binds our society together. The unsettling consequences are palpable.

The restoration of trust is essential for individuals and communities alike, as it is foundational to rebuilding our sense of  purpose and mutual support. Importantly, this process hinges largely on perception rather than concrete facts, which is fortunate given that much of the information we encounter lacks factual rigor.

In a courtroom, truthfulness is often equated with maintaining a consistent narrative. Whether that story is objectively true becomes secondary; inconsistency is seized upon as evidence of falsehood. However, this notion fails to grasp the intricacies of human memory. Our brains recall past events differently at various times and in various contexts, causing our narratives to evolve. This does not render them unreliable or untruthful. Nonetheless, the golden rule in interactions with law enforcement and within the legal system is to sustain a consistent message – saying the same thing consistently.

Subsequently, people demand evidence to substantiate what is being asserted. They seek details that align with the consistent narrative. For trustworthiness to develop, the presented proof or details must not only reinforce the consistent message but also resonate with the audience. When the provided details fail to support the consistent narrative, trust is shattered. Unfortunately, the pivotal point here is that the relied upon details need not be rooted in facts or robust evidence; they only need to create a logical flow and instil the perception that they buttress the consistent message.

In every aspect, our world, communities, and the individuals within them are drifting away from what might be termed objective truth, venturing instead into a virtual realm of beliefs and uncertainties that is detached from reality. It could be argued that this has always been the case to some extent, but the information overload of our times has made this shift more pronounced and disconcerting.

Can we win back trust?

Mike Chapman,
Chair New Zealand Ethical Employers Inc