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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss


Perhaps the most insidious violation of our sense of security and well-being has been the systematic erosion of trust in organizations, institutions and agents we look to for truth. Little wonder that conspiracy theories abound, journalists are looked down upon, science is viewed as little more than propaganda, and government is seen as either a repressive cabal or a sinister deep state.

It isn’t very hard to find the sources of mistrust and while political divisions certainly fuel a great deal of it, and many politicians cultivate distrust as a tool of manipulation—they are a symptom of our collective state of mind. The seeds of mistrust are within us—while those who harness it with cynical ambition are amplifiers and mirrors.

We are born without guile, but we learn early on that our expectations and reality are not always in sync. Throughout our childhood what we hear, are taught, observe and are influenced by prove to be far more complex than they seemed at first. If we are very fortunate, we obtain some critical tools early enough to help us make some sense of the inconsistencies we experience without becoming cynical or wholly mistrustful. Those tools are independent thought, logic, critical thinking, and importantly a keen awareness of human emotion and its power over our rational intellect.

Armed with such tools we could once make our way through the daily assault of misinformation, disinformation, intentional lies and all the other violations that erode trust. Sadly, we live today with a daily tidal wave of information –some of it well intended and some not, but the sheer volume of which makes sifting out what is worth knowing and trusting a Promethean burden. We are cursed for our knowledge by the overflowing stream of informational garbage posing as truth that passes before us—in the form of opinions stated as facts, manufactured evidence, unsubstantiated sources and research rendered by Google.

How did we get here? In a few paragraphs I can hardly sum up all the social, cultural and environmental factors that have contributed to the current state of affairs. I would, however, single out two factors I believe are the most potent poisons. The first is our over reliance on information rather than knowledge. This is partly a product of a mass educational system that is focused on processing minds—and ascertaining accomplishment by means of testing the retention of information rather than the ability to reason. The second is a byproduct of how we live, increasingly divorced from first-hand experiences and out of touch with the actual world in which we live. Taken together, these two factors affecting how we learn, grow, observe, and build a sense of trust have resulted in abstraction.

Life and experience in today's world is measured against unrealistic and uninformed impressions and too often we lack an adequately developed understanding of how to test our own thoughts and emotions against objective reality. In many ways—we live and experience a virtual world, conjured by movies, television, social media, video games, all manufactured and manipulated experiences—the outcomes of which, the feelings of which, the values of which no longer equate with who we really are or what is real.

Those we would have turned to in days past as more objective sources are often operating in as distorted a world as we are. If parents turn to other parents and Facebook postings for direction on whether to vaccinate their children, we must ask why doctors are no longer trusted? If all news is fake news than which news we believe is a statement of political affiliation rather than an assertion of fact. If science is held in disrepute to the extent we no longer know or believe what we can readily observe—that our environment is growing hotter, more degraded, and less healthy by the day, than who is accountable for our seeming lack of rational awareness?

Anton Chekov said, “We must trust and believe in people or our lives become impossible.” Without trust life has indeed become increasingly impossible—and belief in someone, anyone who will lead, respond, connect with us is seemingly our only hope. The impassioned-almost painful desire we invest in politicians, evangelists, and celebrities to provide us with their version of the truth is proof of Chekov’s observation. We need to believe in someone or something, we need to trust, but in whom? To this I say, we must learn anew to trust first in each other—in our better and nobler selves, and in the best of ourselves.

Admittedly, I no longer invest energy in the exchange of facts with those whose agenda is the assertion of closely held opinions. Even when asked to provide 'evidence' I've found that feelings and beliefs carry more weight than inconvenient truth. Nothing I am likely to offer will alter those beliefs. When we close ourselves off to the honest exchange of opposing views--especially when those views are discordant with our own we are governed solely by emotions--and largely the most negative--fear, self-interest, resentment, anger. We listen only to those who echo our sentiments and we question nothing, even when our instincts suggest discordance.

We must want something more than a fiction in which to place our faith. We need to question, to accept the limitations --the reality of who and what we place in a position of trust in our lives or find ourselves adrift and destined for disillusion. It was Abraham Lincoln who said " if you once forfeit the confidence of your fellow citizens, you can never regain their respect and esteem. It is true that you may fool all the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time".

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