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Join forces to fight epidemic of distrust

A Colorado Community Media Editorial

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Survey results about trust always turn our heads.

As the saying goes we build credibility by the teaspoon and lose it by the bucket when we make a mistake in our line of work.

A recent Gallup survey indicated people have confidence in newspapers with 9 percent at a “great deal” and 14 percent at “quite a lot.” It represented a slip from two years earlier when the numbers were 12 percent and 16 percent respectively.

This year our lot was nestled below TV news but above big business in the bottom half of the summarized list. HMOs took the bottom spot, and the military took the top spot with 43 percent at “great deal” and 33 percent “quite a lot.” By the way, nice work by small business taking second place.

And another recent survey, the annual governance survey Gallup poll, pointed out that confidence in government’s ability to handle international problems tallied a low with 49 percent expressing a great deal or a fair amount of confidence, reportedly 2 percentage points down from the previous mark of 51 percent in 2007.

But just this past week, we found sad numbers from another recent survey – The Associated Press-GfK Poll, conducted by GfK Public Affairs & Corporate Communications – that points to an erosion of trust person to person. In broad strokes, the survey mirrors reported trends that the percentage of people who believe most people can be trusted is in decline.

The survey results asked respondents to share how much they trust “people who they may not know very well” in various situations. The highest level of trust came for “people who have access to your medical records when you visit a doctor or hospital people,” with 50 percent choosing “a great deal/quite a bit.” Even in this top category, 29 percent said “just somewhat,” and 17 percent said “not much or not at all” in the same category.

The highest level of distrust was in the category of “people driving the cars around you when you’re driving, walking or biking,” with 39 percent at “not much” or “not at all,” which makes sense given the random interactions on the streets.

The three lowest levels of trust came in situations that are generally more random, such as interactions with people who swipe credit cards, people driving cars around you, and people met while traveling. The three highest levels of trust generally involved where the relationship may be less random and in some cases involve an ongoing relationship, such as with people who have access to medical records, people who prepare food, and people meet while traveling or away from home.

Seems like the more people are connected by the conveniences of modern life, the more disconnected they are in other ways, such as building trust. We notice that trust is stronger in smaller circles where people have repeated interactions with the people who make up their lives. While we do our best to increase trust and confidence from our offices, we see an effort that needs to take place neighbor by neighbor, group by group.

It’s not too early for a New Year’s resolution. Be a joiner, join a local organization, learn how it works and get to know the people involved. And if you are already involved, look for another opportunity. Survey says – stronger connections bring more trust.