loss of trust

A Crisis of Trust

Trust is essential in every aspect of social life. It is vital in relationships and in our political, social, and economic systems

Trust is an issue which underpins every aspect of social life. It is essential in our relationships, and it is vital in our political, social, and economic systems. It is the reason why political checks and balances are necessary – they rein in the more primordial elements of human nature and allow for confidence, continuity, and trust in the systems in place.

For example, the concept of the rule of law – sometimes reduced to a mere catchphrase – aims to ensure that all persons are subject to the law. This tries to minimise the arbitrary use of power and to maximise the stability of the legal framework. It should give citizens the peace of mind that governing authorities will not treat them arbitrarily and it gives investors confidence in the economic system. It does not guarantee that all laws will be just, but it allows for some degree of redress in the case of injustices. In other words, it is a necessary pre-condition for trust and confidence in any given political system.

Trust during COVID-19

COVID-19 laid bare the value of trust. The need for this during and after the pandemic is becoming more apparent. Unfortunately, the pandemic itself also exposed the devastating effects of a lack of trust.

In the initial days, lockdowns and partial lockdowns forced firms to re-think their way of doing business. Remote working became the order of the day. This, in itself, requires a high degree of trust. Employers need to trust that their employees are putting in all the hours while employees need to feel safe in the knowledge that their employer has their best interest at heart.

The quick rush to resume regular working routines after the lockdown was lifted – particularly in places where this was not urgent or necessary – shows that trust was lacking. The shift in working modes was only temporary. A considerable degree of wariness remains.

Once public places started opening, the adherence to protocols became essential. Tourist attractions, catering establishments, and entertainment venues required such protocols to get patrons to trust that their health concerns were being addressed. In a rush to “return to normal,” some protocols were applied shoddily. In other cases, the requirements for social distancing were wholly ignored. The result in many countries was that COVID-19 cases spiked.

The erosion of trust

The situation in Malta is such that the country now finds itself on several “red lists” – in other words, the lack of foresight, enforcement and leadership eroded that trust necessary to allow visitors to travel with relative peace of mind.

Comments made by captains of industry on the “benefit of hindsight” were superfluous; hindsight was not needed when the scientific process was so transparent on the consequences of re-opening too fast and too soon without the necessary measures in place. Here also trust played a significant part; the confidence we had in our medical professionals, and their advice was replaced by mere expediency. The result is chaos and further erosion of trust.

Similarly, a recent newspaper report noted that case managers handling ‘contact tracing’ are facing endless abuse from the general public whenever they are contacted about the need to quarantine or get tested. Social media abounds with anecdotes of people who refuse to wear masks to protect themselves and others. It is undoubtedly a crisis of solidarity which, in turn, erodes trust.

Yet it is now becoming apparent that the climate of suspicion will only create further damage and hamper the post-COVID-19 recovery. While we need to invest in protocols, it is also vital that we invest in creating a climate of trust. The more we invest in the value of trust, the higher the dividends.

The alternative is a society built on the foundations of cynicism and expediency – the result will be a haphazard set of policies that will backfire in the long-run. The last few weeks offer a mere taster of such an attitude.

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