How do we create trust in our institutions?

The New Ism conversations

Mel Young and Alexandra Matthews, the founders of The New Ism, are practising social distancing at home in Edinburgh and London respectively: we wanted to take the opportunity to discuss how this time of change and reflection could be harnessed to create a New Ism when all this is over. As members of different generations, we have different experiences and perspectives, but share a desire to create a new way forward.

Alex: There have been lots of discussions about what the world will look like when we have recovered from the coronavirus epidemic – will we go back to normal, or will there be a new normal? We discussed that in our blog from last week and concluded that we couldn’t go back to our old ways. But how do we implement such significant change? My feeling is that we need to trust our institutions, including government, if we are to allow them to guide us through huge societal change. However many of my generation – including me – don’t have any trust at all in our leaders. What are your thoughts on that?

Mel: If we are creating a completely new model for society through The New Ism, then it has to be built on values. One of those values is trust. To create an inclusive and fair society we need to trust one another and the institutions. In my experience, the level of trust in our society has actually diminished over time so in many ways I am not surprised that you have no trust in our leadership or our institutions. But we have to create something which people believe in, otherwise we will have complete anarchy or simply the survival of the fittest. 

AM: I agree – trust is crucial, but there’s a real lack of it. The critical thing to start off with then is how do we create trust? Do we need to entirely transform our institutions – start again, change the qualifications required – or can we work with what we’ve got? I feel that on an individual and community level there is trust – can we learn anything from that?

MY: Well, I agree to some degree. Trust in governments and the media is very low, and most people don’t believe anything they say. Yes, we will trust people in our local community but only so much. I remember the days when people didn’t lock their doors – they trusted that their houses wouldn’t be broken into, because everyone knew one another. We certainly aren’t in that place these days. The issue of community is key to me – where we all understand the importance of living together and not as a group of selfish individuals. If we can create genuine communities then we can build effective and respected institutions on top of that.

AM: I can’t ever remember a level of trust where you could keep your front door unlocked. I was born in the eighties so I guess the idea of the community must have started breaking down before then. Do you have an idea of why the community spirit broke down, and therefore what we can do to build it up again? Was it a result of ‘small’ government and spending cuts?

MY: Well, let me put it in perspective. My only experience of this was in small villages and small communities in cities where everyone knew one another. We are also much more materialistic these days: we have more stuff which we see as valuable, so we want to keep it under lock and key. So, the issue of smallness or the size of any community matters when it comes to trust I think. I remember a person simply walking into a house, opening the fridge, taking some milk and leaving a note saying “borrowed some milk – will give it back tomorrow”: that little anecdote shows the type of atmosphere around. I just think we all became much more materialistic, more distantanced from each other (do you even know who your neighbours are?), and everything has become bigger (it used to be that a millionaire was a wow, then it was a billionaire, and now a multi-billionaire). We just want to grow and grow – I think this obsession creates a lack of connectedness and therefore a lack of trust.

AM: That’s really interesting, I hadn’t made the connection between our obsession with possessions and money, and a decrease in trust. So I guess, without wanting to be too simplistic, that we need – as individuals and communities but also as a society – to find a way to reevaluate what is important to us. Is it having the latest smartphone or is it feeling a sense of belonging? 

I also think that globalisation and the internet have a lot to answer for. When we feel so connected with people around the world, who aren’t in our immediate physical vicinity, perhaps we feel that we don’t need to connect with those who are physically near us? Does that even matter – who’s to say that an online community of people who you trust is any less important than a physical community at a sports club or in a village or neighbourhood, for example?

MY: I think this is the essence of the discussion. If we are going to have trust as a key value in The New Ism – and I think we should – then we need to be clear about what that means. It could be that having people wandering in and out of other people’s houses is simply something which happened in the past and we won’t go back there. Technology can be a force for good – some online communities create a place where trust is very high and this will be important as we go forward. However, community ventures like neighbourhood sports clubs are crucial because they involve connection at a human level – and that interaction can create longer lasting trust.

AM: There’s something about connection between people in the same physical space which is much more powerful than anything that can be created by two people sitting at computers thousands of miles from each other. 

MY: Yes, I agree, but we shouldn’t dismiss online communities. I am involved in a couple which are important to me where I value the other people in that online community and indeed trust them. They have become great friends. But nothing beats human connection.

AM: So I think we have come to the conclusion that for there to be trust in our institutions, we need to nurture communities, because trust has to be built from the bottom up. And to do that, we need to consider our priorities, and become less obsessed with acquiring stuff. How we do that is another conversation, but I think we have established a key tenet of The New Ism!

Maybe next time we can discuss how we become less materialistic – because not only would it build trust in communities, it would also go some way to reducing the issues that face the planet from an environmental perspective.

Header image: Photo by Nina Strehl on Unsplash

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