Here at American Canary we’ve been thinking a lot about trust: where it comes from, why it’s important, how it shapes communities and countries, and how we can begin building trust between individuals and the institutions that constitute our civic system.
It can be difficult to imagine how to begin to create a better world when we don’t trust one another and when we don’t trust our government to do what is best for us. It can be difficult to mobilize and find strength in our community when we don’t trust our neighbors and when we don’t trust ourselves to be able to make the changes necessary to bring integrity and accountability back into our democratic process.
There’s a great deal of jadedness and apathy stemming from this simple, yet difficult, problem: a lack of trust.
So where has this decline in trust come from? Some of you might be thinking that there’s good reason to be distrustful of politicians, the government, and people on the other side of the political spectrum. And there might be some truth to that. But when we recognize that for decades we have been fed messages that amplify our differences and obscure our similarities, it’s not hard to see how our society has become so polarized — and how trust in our institutions has all but evaporated. Which leads to another question: who benefits from a civic system experiencing a crisis of trust? When the only mechanism that can hold corporations and powerful people accountable — the government — is seen as untrustworthy or incapable of making effective change, who benefits? When people are divided, distracted, and angry, who benefits?
Trust is what enables democracies to function. It’s what allows the justice system and our broader social norms of honesty and accountability to be maintained. It’s what allows good faith arguments in pursuit of the truth to occur. It’s what makes it possible to disagree with someone without vilifying them. It’s what allows for compromise, progress, and common goals to emerge. Without a basic degree of trust in our institutions and in each other, our democracy can’t survive.
But we can’t sit back and wait for our systems to suddenly transform into something trustworthy. We have to make them so. After all, these systems are brought to life and enacted in the everyday actions and interactions of individual citizens. We all need to look within ourselves to find the strength to trust again, to earn the trust of others, and to do the hard work required to ensure that those people we elect to represent us are those people we can trust to have our collective interests at heart.
Significant change doesn’t necessarily come from the highest places of power; it often begins in the small, singular actions of ‘normal’ people, each doing our part everyday to create moments and interactions infused with truth, accountability, and humility. That’s how we will begin to dismantle the walls that undermine the trust we have in each other and in our shared system of representative governance.
United we stand, divided we fall. Let’s unite and learn to trust again.