In order to move forward with anyone, trust is required.
As the issues become more important, more trust is needed.
And the more important the issue, the more trust that is needed as well.
For example, at the low end of the trust spectrum, simply riding as a passenger being driven across town requires trust in the driver’s skills for 30 minutes or so. Towards the other end, marrying the driver requires overall, lifelong trust.
If we are to be comfortable with paying our taxes, we need to trust that the tax structure is fair, and the government is spending our money 1. in the right areas, and 2., spending it efficiently. Money in the right places, spent responsibly.
Getting comfortable with spending money on welfare requires 1. that the people receiving it are doing their best, yet are incapable of meeting their responsibilities (money in the right area) and 2. The various agencies dispensing our taxes are working to help the recipients achieve self-supporting status, earning the joy, freedom, and dignity that should come with that accomplishment. Sadly, I need to use the word “should” in the previous sentence. The joy and dignity that comes only from doing one’s best (“not just showing up”) is slowly but surely being replaced by the ease and sense of entitlement that comes having others be taxed to partially or fully support us.
How do we get that trust in the recipients? Do we need to know the specifics of a large, random sampling of welfare recipients to come to statistically significant conclusions? No. Those stats, if available, will be skewed in this direction or that, depending upon the bias of the entity producing the numbers. Or do we simply trust human nature? Surprisingly, this is the better path–with some caveats.
Let’s start with some key points about human nature.
- People trust people they like.
- People like people who are like themselves.
We see number 1 at play in election after election. Likeability often outweighs policy–assuming that the voters even know the many policies of the various candidates. The same is true about actors and other performers. We are willing to pay to see the ones we like, despite their artistic flaws. Number 2 is clearly proven by the people who feel connected to others by gender, age, race, similar education and income, vehicle and sports team preferences, military status, schools attended, geography–even past geography, etc. Many etceteras.
How do we generate social trust in a highly diverse society, where there are not only major differences between and among groups in education, income, work habits and values, but genuine and deep-seated antagonism? In other words, how do we in America, the world’s most diverse society in any nation of size, generate the needed trust?
In major countries throughout the world, there is very little diversity, certainly when compared with the US. Japan. China, Scandinavia, for example. In the Netherlands, another homogeneous country, they have a generous welfare system that works. Overall, the people in the Netherlands are well educated and hard-working. And people know that about their fellow citizens. That knowledge gives the people in the “low countries” the ability to trust that their welfare money is not being wasted. Well educated and hard working people do not waste the things that are given to them.
- How do we get to the needed point of trust right here in our own country; a highly diversified, largely fractured country? Ready?
- 1. Let go of being right. We can’t learn to trust one another if our primary goal is to be right. The need to be right will squash any possibility of trust. Driving to be right means that listening to others is at most a mere formality–a pause in the process of impressing on the other(s) how correct we are and how wrong they are. Would you trust anyone who did not listen and was merely engaged in conversation as a contest where they win and you lose?
- Develop shared values. Let’s pause for a definition here: values do not mean exact ways of living like deciding to drive an electric car instead of, say, a clean diesel truck. That’s a choice, a means to an end, not a value. The shared value here could be something like respecting the environment, the only one we will pass down to future generations, while not unnecessarily damaging the economy in the process. (It might be helpful if we look at values as strategies, and ways to realizing those values as tactics.) Similarly, a shared value could be wanting the best K-12 education with the most efficient use of taxpayer dollars. Choosing to emphasize one method, for example, public schools, charters or vouchers–or balancing all three–would be a tactic.
Absent trust, those receiving the aid will be tempted to perceive the untrusted people who are making the assistance possible through taxes, as greedy, self-serving and, possibly, the source of their financial difficulties in the first place. Absent trust, those providing the aid through their taxes might be tempted to see those receiving it as lazy and entitled. Instead of the money transfer fixing anything, it would simply exacerbates the problem.
How would you address the trust issue??
Will Luden, writing from my home office at 7,200’ in Colorado Springs.
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