This I Believe

Bradley - Denver, Colorado
Entered on May 8, 2009

I believe that trust is the most basic currency of human progress, and that building trust creates the truest form of wealth that I, as an individual, or we, as a society, can ever hope to enjoy.

Fear is the most natural and fundamental response to risk and uncertainty. Trust offers deliverance from a fearful existence, an alternative to the “fight or flight” response of our older, reptilian brains. Some people place their trust in the supernatural (and its agents among us) to deliver them from the certainty of death and the unpredictability of nature. Throughout human history, great societies have generally fared better for placing their trust in laws to govern social affairs, allaying fears of abuse at the hands of our fellows. Trust holds together the fundamental institutions of marriages and families, even in the absence of love, more than love can hold together marriages and families in the absence of trust.

I learned first hand to accept the central role of trust in human affairs when I worked in communities living in fear of toxic dumps in their neighborhoods. Already wary of the polluters that sought first to minimize their liabilities, citizens turned to government cleanup managers for assurance. Managers that responded with complex and uncertain scientific risk estimates to define the problems, and the adequacy of their proposed solutions, typically made themselves as unpopular and ineffective as the polluters themselves. Those decision makers that understood the importance of building trust through honesty and empathy and -– most importantly, offering trust first — were better able to negotiate a cleanup plan acceptable to the people most directly affected. In the process, they built confidence in the possibility of responsive, democratic government, that most noble of collective human ambitions.

In the years since, I have also learned that all business contracts are, at their core, agreements for sharing risks and benefits in the face of future uncertainties. Building trust before, and during, contract negotiations enhances success of the negotiations themselves and provides an essential foundation for managing the issues that arise inevitably from the failure to anticipate every eventuality.

I know that trusting others is risky, and I have been burned more than once – in my personal and my professional lives — by giving trust when it is proves to be neither deserved nor reciprocated. I do not advocate blind trust. But just as Alfred Lord Tennyson believed that it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, I believe I am diminished as an individual if I spurn trust because I fear deception or disappointment.

In my life, I seek first to be worthy of others’ trust, and then, to be prepared to offer mine in return.