On Halloween, 1938 the voice of Orson Welles voice came across the airwaves marauding as a newscaster. Beginning with the words, “We interrupt this broadcast…” he told the story of a Martian invasion in progress. Widespread panic was followed by widespread anger when the hoax was discovered. Many attempted to sue for “mental anguish” and “personal injury”. No one likes to be fooled.
It’s a laughable story to a modern person. Can you imagine panicking about a Martian invasion simply because the radio told you to? How could our forefathers have been so naïve? Yet behind the joke lies a serious question: Was there once a world where most people told the truth? Was there a time when someone was trustworthy until proven otherwise? It seems that whatever we’ve gained in street smarts, we’ve lost in faith. Our trust is like a diamond mine that has been stripped down to bedrock and all that’s left are tiny veins of cautious naivete. And for those remnants, the scavengers abound, digging for our trust with their deceptive ads, internet pop-ups, and email scams featuring Nigerian princes who want to “wire us a million dollars” for some incongruous reason. They’re all trying to find the last gem of innocence that’s not yet been plundered. What happened to trust?
The Year That Trust Died
According to Maslansky, et al, Trust died seventy years later, in the year 2008. Their book “The Language of Trust” suggests that with the span of a year, the “Trust Barometer found that three out of four Americans trust business less than the year before.” The old scams of snake oil, used car salesmen, and last-chance-offers have been left in the dust with this turbocharger of lemons called the internet. In gigabytes per second, we are pursued like never before with banners, adware, spam, viruses, links, etc. On the other hand, the internet also brings us a new level of honesty. Bad products cannot defend themselves against the reviews of real people. Some websites unravel hoaxes or smoke out dishonest news stories and dissect misleading political speeches. If you’ve ever been professionally naked on camera or unprofessionally drunk in a karaoke bar…well it’s probably out there somewhere on the web. It’s hard to hide the truth now. Ironically, however, all of this ‘revealed truth’ just makes us more cynical. Silhouetted against the backdrop of all the contradictions and denials it’s hard to know who to believe and so we just give up on trust in general.
What’s the Risk in Safety?
Isn’t it better to be cautious anyways? It’s harder to fool a skeptic, after all. The problem is that caution is risky too. Trust is like money—it goes to waste if you don’t do something with it. If I stash my savings in a mattress until my old age, I’ve taken a huge risk. For one thing, inflation itself will make the money into worthless old bills. Then there are the potential earnings that have been lost. Most important of all you lose whatever the money might have added to your life story: the travel, adventures, gifts, education, etc. In money and trust and so many things, the greatest risk is not to risk at all.
Skepticism and New Ideas
This skepticism has another great risk: the inability to adopt new ideas. When we listen to someone we’ve never met, saying something we’ve never heard, there’s an opportunity. The value of the message could become immeasurable in our life, but we’d have to risk some inconvenience and a little trust in the unknown. However, nowadays we don’t listen for news, we pursue it. We can choose the websites, bloggers, and TV channels that are already aligned with our viewpoints and preferences. If I only go to websites I’ve bookmarked, blogs I’ve subscribed to, and listen to Pandora radio “stations” that I’ve created, then when exactly is something outside my worldview ever going to get “in”? How is something fantastic ever going to “rock my world” if new things rarely enter it? Though we have access to more ideas than ever before, we give ourselves only small portholes to see the world through. Anything larger than that and we fear of drowning in the overwhelming sea of options, crashing through into already complicated lives.
A Greater Trust
Perhaps there’s less trust in the world because there is less to trust. Or maybe it just seems that way, who knows? But if trust is a must, then what do we do? (Dr. Seuss might like that, so why wouldn’t you?!)
Maybe we just need to start with a tenuous trust in life itself. Trusting that if we commit ourselves to taking risks, then our instincts will tell us which ones to take. That regardless of what happens, we’ll bounce back and find our way. That if someone makes a fool of us (honestly, people will risk their lives before they risk embarrassment), our self-esteem will shield us from any great injury. And perhaps someday your biography, like those of the great men and women of history, will show that the greatest risks yielded the greatest rewards.
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