Last week, the the General Social Survey released results of a national poll . According to their website, the GSS is widely regarded as the single best source of data on societal trends. It found that Americans trust one another less than they have in several decades, and, perhaps, less than ever.
Only one third of those surveyed agreed with the notion that most people can be trusted. That’s down from half of those surveyed in 1972.
Seventy-eight percent only trust people they meet while traveling “just somewhat,” “not too much” or “not at all.”
Fifty-five percent don’t trust people who they hire to do work in their homes.
Seventy-five percent mistrust people who are also driving cars while they drive.
Eighty-one percent said that they trust politicians in Washington to do the right thing “only some of the time.”
This is a massive psychological problem for America because trust is the oil that makes the engine of our nation run smoothly, and at higher speeds.
If a person doesn’t trust colleagues, he or she can only approach business dealings with cynicism, rather than excitement and the expectation of synergy. The distrust can gum up the works, slow down progress or even stop it completely.
If a person doesn’t trust his customers, he can put the brakes on offering credit, where the numbers indicate a reasonable risk, but his gut tells him, otherwise.
If a person doesn’t trust her government, she can withhold the kind of patriotic fervor needed to fuel a war effort.
If a person doesn’t trust his fellow travelers on vacation, then it may be that more money for locks and safes and security needs to be spent by hotels to make customers feel secure, raising prices, perhaps needlessly.
And if people don’t trust one another, I would suggest they will increasingly feel a sense of dis-ease navigating the world that can easily translate to more depression, anxiety and use of drugs and alcohol.
One big reason I believe Americans trust one another less than in previous decades is because tens of millions of us are lying every single day through profiles on Facebook and other social media -- presenting partially made-up, prettied-up version of ourselves for public consumption -- with a thousand false friends, doctored photos and carefully crafted quips that make us seem warmer, wiser or wittier than we really are.
Another big reason I believe Americans trust one another less and less is because more and more of us have eschewed seeking insight, in favor of alcohol, marijuana or quick-fix psychiatric medications like Prozac or Adderall which, while great and powerful tools when used appropriately, are now used by millions of people to avoid looking at their lives.
You can’t trust anyone who lacks enough insight to truly trust herself -- her real passions, her real capacity for love, her real values.
A third reason is because we are not trying, anymore, to do our best or most honest work.
Schools don’t deliver the lesson plans they could, nor the inventive spirit they should.
Security at airports is half-show, half-go—with breaches where there shouldn’t be and pat downs for folks who don’t need them.
Medical care is sluggishly delivered by people at least as worried about being sued as being stars.
In the end, we are estranged from others because we are, increasingly, estranged from our best selves.
The road back will not be easy, because looking at things honestly never is. It’s not supposed to be. Building things—for real, to rely on—is tougher than knocking them down.
It takes real intent and authentic effort, not slight of hand or sloppiness of mind. And that’s the whole point.
Keith Ablow, MD is a psychiatrist, and was host of the nationally-syndicated "Dr. Keith Ablow Show." He is a former member of the Fox News Medical A Team.