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People trust what they can see. People trust competence.

That’s the conclusion of a Sunday Des Moines Register editorial ‘Iowa governments have work to do on trust’.

Stephen L. Carter writes in his book ‘Civility: Manner, Morals, and the Etiquette of Democracy’---“Civility has two parts: generosity, even when it is costly, and trust, even when there is risk.”

We tend to extend trust until we find reasons not to trust. When we’re fearful, in these days about the economy, about our own future, it’s difficult to maintain trust when we don’t know what decisions are being made and sense governments aren’t solving problems.

Whom can we trust?
The Register editorial asks for openness and displays of competence to rebuild confidence.

Last month a United Press International story had this headline and lead: ‘Poll: Most trust Obama's economic actions PRINCETON, N.J., April 13 (UPI) -- More than two-thirds of Americans asked expressed at least a fair amount of confidence in President Barack Obama's economic decisions, a Gallup poll indicated.’

Obama is in the headlines. He addresses the nation. He holds press conferences. He consults with many. He is operating in the open, telling us what he thinks and when he changes his thinking. There’s a barrage of communication. His communication skills and innate humility instill confidence.

The Register is right in advocating for openness and competence. Those qualities earn back the trust we’ve lost.

We lose in every way when we lose trust, Jan. 9, 2008

Des Moines Register editorial, May 24, 2009

United Press International, April 13, 2009 article


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We often base our trust of another person on an assessment of their sincerity. We may ignore other important assessments. Trust, as Lynette pointed out, also involves an assessment of someone's competence. A third important assessment is their reliability. We get in trouble when we completely base our assessment on sincerity and trust someone who is unreliable and incompetent.