We can't live without trust: it's official. Bloc
magazine has been out there on the streets talking to ordinary
people discovering the hard truth about trust. The good news:
80.3% of all those we asked agreed with the statement, 'We can't
live without trust'. The bad news: only 29% think that society
is as 'trustworthy' as it used to be.
Take a look at the news: this is a society in
which you can be murdered with a samurai sword for being an MP's
personal assistant, in which you can have your healthy kidney
removed by mistake in a 'routine' operation, or where you can
step out of your house in the morning only for your foot to land
in a large pool of blood--as happened to a friend of mine in Oxfordlast
Okay, it's not a hard fact that society is less trustworthy than
before, but it can certainly seem that way if we believe the news
and most of the 51 random people we interviewed on Friday. And
no, it's not just old wives' tales: the average age of our subjects
was 31 and well over half were men.
Trust has become a popular word. It was an NHS
Trust that removed the wrong kidney recently. It is Trust Funds
that promise to make your money grow, unless the tycoon who runs
||Can trust be trusted any more? No, it can't,
as so many modern trends seem to testify. Take a look at the
frenetic building of gated high-walled property developments,
the increasing reliance on litigation to solve our problems,
the rejection of humans in favour of pets, and the tendency
towards solitary living.
But let us turn to our survey, which asked about
a wide range of issues and did not just highlight the distrust,
but dug out the mine of trust that is in us all. It revealed that
40% of people would 'tend not to trust' or would 'never trust'
their next door neighbour and only 11% said they had åabsolute
trust' in them. 55% of subjects said they do not trust the information
people give them face-to-face; there was an overwhelming preference
for information provided by some sectors of the media. The
BBC and quality newspapers came top. An almost alarming 35% saying
they had 'absolute trust' in the BBC (and most of the rest 'tended'
to trust them), while 25% absolutely trust the information provided
by quality newspapers. But word-of-mouth was preferred above tabloid
newspapers, which a dramatic 70.5% said they do not trust. The
tabloids were outdone only by Conservative politicians, who are
trusted by less than 20%.
The internet scored well, beating next door neighbours,
politicians and local radio hands down. The overwhelming faith
in the media is worrying. Surely they, more than anything, are
responsible for perpetuating our paranoia and fear of the next
man, by bringing the worst brutalities into our homes in the name
The most trusted people in society, according
to our survey, are family members, whom 74.5% said they would
trust absolutely, with another 16% saying they would tend to trust
Surprisingly perhaps, given recent events, the
police came second, with teachers in third and 'ministers of religion'
in fourth place. Lawyers and politicians came bottom, surprise
surprise. Labour politicians scored 68% distrust, rather better
Citizens were asked to rank their trust for eight
different brands and companies. British companies Boots and Marks
and Spencers came second and third, but BT was almost as unpopular
as Exxon (fame of the biggest ever oil disaster), which came bottom.
47% don't trust British Telecom, and only 6% give it their wholehearted
approval. There is an irony here, since BT is hoping to cash in
on its reputation for trustworthiness by selling BT 'seals of
approval' for websites. Sony is the most trusted company, with
92% responding in favour. Hyundai, Electrolux and Ciba-Geigy were
ranked 4, 5 and 6 respectively.
Asked whether they trusted British brands and
companies more than foreign ones, the consensus was a fairly resounding
'no'. Another question found that Europe is marginally more trustworthy
than America, though many were 'not sure'.
Politicians are less trustworthy than before,
according to the majority, but there is ambivalence about whether
the police are more or less trustworthy than in the past. However,
there were mutterings of, 'They're just as bad as they were'.
Throughout the survey, with some exceptions, there was a trend
to accord trust to large institutions and organisations, as against
Word of mouth and the next-door neighbour are
out, the BBC and Sony are in. But there is clear discrimination
between the institutions, with some scoring very badly, like oil
companies, British Telecom and politicians.
Perhaps we can learn from the past. The origin
of the word 'trust' is the Old Norse word 'traust', which is related
to the Old English word 'treowe', meaning 'faithful'. There is
a message here: people are unlikely ever to be trusted unless
we put our faith in them first.
©JAN FOSSGARD 2000