THE BLOG
12/05/2014 04:56 pm ET Updated Feb 03, 2015

Battleground Main Street: The Trust War

The issue has become too big for us to ignore. American's have become less trusting of big business, big government, and big media. But what is most alarming is an intensifying loss of faith in each other. Recent events that have tested our trust have had a particularly acute impact on Main Street, challenging the foundation by which America has been built. If America is to be trusted by the rest of the world, we need to first regain trust among ourselves.

Dissolution of trust has been lurking for many years in America. However, the frequency and severity of "trust triggering" events has been compounding into pronounced and uncertain outcomes, further perpetuating and exacerbating civic unrest and a societal decline in trust. The Ebola outbreak, escalation between Russia and Ukraine, ISIS's terror and threats, the Gaza Strip conflict, and a myriad of issues ranging from data breeches, spy scandals, political corruption, and product recalls represent renditions of trust triggering events rearing their ugly heads in headlines.

These "trust triggering" events are not isolated newsbytes. Rather, they are a mirror of our humanity, and indicators of how distrust has become more entrenched throughout society. Whether they are local or global, these events directly and indirectly impact the trust we have in foundational institutions such as government and business, as well as the trust we have within ourselves and among each other.

The steady bombardment of trust triggering events is weighing down the psyche and daily life of average Americans. These events litter our 24/7 news cycle, amplified by cursory sound bites, and quickly dismissed for more eye-popping and attention grabbing news. As a result, our cynicism is being stoked on a regular basis, and without resolution from one event to another.

The tragic deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner have been significant "Main Street" trust triggering events for America. The recent grand jury decisions associated with these respective cases have evoked and fueled further frustration, anger, and distrust not only with citizens in Ferguson and Staten Island, but with people throughout the nation. As we all know, there have been both violent and peaceful responses associated with these cases. But the events also led to the rise of authentic leadership, community compassion, hope and healing. These events should be a wakeup call for all of us to recognize that we have let loose the reins on trust.

There are three paths for trust to take following a triggering event: trust can remain stable, it can increase, or it can decline. Typically an acute decline of trust occurs in most instances following a shocking triggering event, like what transpired in Ferguson last August. The timing, delivery, and authenticity of the public response by leaders of the community such as clergy, police, and politicians has a direct impact on how much or little public trust is impacted.

In the case of Ferguson, the shooting of Michael Brown triggered a trust event that led to a rapid deterioration of trust within the community. Captain Ronald Johnson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol served to temper the decline of trust however. For example, Mr. Johnson's choice to disarm himself and speak as a member of the community demonstrated integrity and strong character. This action was an essential step to regain a small sense of trust urgently needed at a critical time on the streets of Ferguson last August.

We hold people of power on a pedestal, and to a different standard. When positions of power and authority lack the skills, or fail to maintain their trust during triggering events, the foundation of institutions which we typically support and put our faith into is at risk of collapse. It is important for us to remember that people that have power through their title, stature, or position in a respected institution (i.e., Law Enforcement, Clergy, and Military) are also local citizens.

People in power are masked by their title, their uniform, their badge, and their gun. The veil of authority puts a barrier between them and all others; it can be a barrier to open communication and trust building. But lift the façade, and people of power are as naked, insecure, and frightened as the rest of us - they are once again human. Captain Ronald Johnson helped the community of Ferguson regain some trust by allowing them to see him as a person, a community member who communicated clearly and genuinely.

Trust can be taught. Although trust is very much instinctual and animalistic it is also a behavioral response that requires mutuality between people. Mutuality comes when people feel connected, open, safe, and secure. When trust triggering events become perceptions of "us against them" all sides lose. Such situations can quickly breed mistrust and propagate splinter events that have no bearing on or coherence to the original trust triggering event. Unfortunately this has occurred far too often, typically at the expense of local communities that want to heal and to be heard. The reality is that we were, and remain, all in this trust war together, whether we are peacefully protesting on the streets of Ferguson or New York, communicating the story behind the news desk, or working to comprehend the situation from afar.

It is time to reassess our convictions. The foundation of Main Street is crumbling from our own undoing. We are failing ourselves, let alone our children. Trust has to begin with each of us, taking a stand on who we are, what we believe, and how we want to be treated. If we don't dedicate serious time to reflect, understand, and heal from recent events, we will remain in a cycle of misunderstanding and distrust, and Main Street America will continue to deteriorate. If we let this go too far, we will be left wondering what ever happened to that institution in which we had once placed our ultimate faith in, democracy.