Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Public Trust

I began this post weeks ago and completely unrelated to recent events on which I've commented in this space. I don't intend it to apply to said events, although, I imagine, it applies to anyone who occupies a position of trust and anyone who's asked to trust them.

I've always been confused by endorsements. I get it in the context of a crowded campaign - if there's seven relatively identical candidates for President, I can see how the endorsement of some other respected politicians might make a difference. I don't get it in the case of successor to successee? Say my Senator is retiring and makes a big speech endorsing a former aid, say, to take the seat. Will people with an affinity for that retiring Senator genuinely transfer the love and support they have for one person to another? I imagine it's an issue of degree; there are certainly some politicians I see as more trustworthy than others, but I also can't think of a scenario in which I'd trust an endorsement like that.

I can't imagine trusting my father's endorsement uncritically. I'd certainly want to know what people think, but to assume that an endorsement brings with it a wealth of supporters seems naive at best, condescending at worst. Maybe that says more about my trust issues than it does about the general public, but I find it fascinating nonetheless.

I also suspect it's a generational issue. My generation just doesn't trust unless it's earned. I've been told there were times and places where assumption of authority carried with it automatic trust. Now respect is different. I try to respect all people equally as valuable human beings, but I am not going to immediately treat one person with more deference or respect simply because of a position they hold. That hypothetical Senator may have earned a lot of trust and honor through their service, but there's no way I'd automatically translate the actions of one person (or the dignity of an office) to another.

I'm not sure I have much to say other than making the observations I've made. Is it just me? Is it generational? How do you decide what public or authority figures to trust?

My wife gets the raw end of this deal. She's a middle school teacher. She's a bit fed up with parents believing their twelve year old over her. I suppose it is, though, the same thing. People aren't going to respect someone without them earning it. (I'd argue my wife does a pretty good job of earning it, but I also know her pretty well.)*

But I also have to wonder if we do a good enough job of allowing people to prove their trust-worthiness to us? Do we too easily project a generic untrustworthy authority on people without giving them a real chance? I mean, if the Senator making the endorsement is, in fact, a good person, that endorsement shouldn't hurt the reputation of their chosen successor. But do we give that benefit of the doubt?

I'm currently running for the local school board. I was not endorsed by the local teacher's union. This wasn't surprising to me. What was surprising was how many people find my candidacy more attractive because I wasn't endorsed by this group. That seems to reflect some negative understanding on the teachers of our community - as if their endorsement will naturally be deficient in some way. That bias likely comes from some of the very real problems (PR and otherwise) that teachers' unions have at higher levels. Is this perhaps the case of some nameless, faceless public entity reflecting, through several levels, onto individual teachers like my wife?

Maybe. Maybe not.

It sure does make me think a little bit more about how I form my opinions of people and how I decide to trust. How easy is it to project my past dealings with authority onto new people in front of me - heck, it doesn't even have to be authority. Do we transfer our feelings towards some other 6-foot, brown-haired friend with glasses onto the next person I meet who looks like them? If it happens from politician to politician or teacher to teacher, why not from person to person in everyday life?

How do we trust, and who do we trust, and when do we trust? To what degree do we trust? I imagine these are questions that deserve more time and attention than we often give to them.

*I have to admit this one really boggles my mind. Even if you're judging someone's trustworthiness on their own actions, how many of these parents have perfect children? My daughter is almost three. She may be cute and innocent and the opposite of ill-intentioned, but she's not at all trustworthy. You can't believe anything that girl says. I mean, if she weren't three I'd be very concerned about the high odds she'd end up in prison.

No comments: