Trust and Society

It is not hard to discern that trust is a commodity that is in very short supply among our people. Take, for instance, the reaction to the announcement by the Government of “One Guyana” as the guiding mantra of its vision for Guyana. President Irfaan Ali has literally taken the responsibility for being the “poster boy” to performatively demonstrate what such a vision means in practice. He has displayed a level of energy unsurpassed in the history of our nation to enter every ward, hamlet and village of our country to not only explain what is meant by the term but to roll out programs in all facets of our national lives so Guyanese can experience its meaning. But unfortunately, the Opposition has responded with hostility that betrays the abovementioned cynical lack of trust.
Such a posture appears to be in danger of becoming ingrained in our national psyche under the unrelenting dissemination of a dyspeptic and dystopian worldview by the Opposition. This eventuality does not bode well for the development of a more secure and harmonious society that all Guyanese so strongly desire. Trust is the cement that holds together any agglomeration of humanity. The very notion of “social” implies a recognition of predictability in the actions of people that has to be undergirded by trust. Absent this crucial element, we revert to the law of the jungle.
The Swedish-born philosopher and ethicist, Sissela Bok wrote, “Trust is a social good to be protected just as much as the air we breathe or the water we drink. When it is damaged, the community as a whole suffers; and when it is destroyed, societies falter and collapse.” As far as the life of nations goes, ours is still in its infancy. But surely the Opposition must recognise that as a people, it is not only our interests but our fates that are interwoven and intertwined. Whatever we may value – be it material, cultural or spiritual goods – we inevitably have to fall back on others to secure it or at least not to frustrate its acquisition. And this is where trust comes into the picture.
This is not to acknowledge that there is a certain element of risk is the matter of trust, which has been defined as “an individual’s belief in, and willingness to act on the basis of, the words, actions, and decisions of another.” As people go through life, a history of previous social interactions would have alerted them to the extent to which others can be relied on to keep their word and which experience may guide them in new, ambiguous situations.
But many studies have shown that too many of us summarise our experiences based on prejudices or slanted data that we are fed, especially nowadays on social media. All of this leads to the formation of stereotypes that are often quite at variance with the reality in front of us. This, we fear, is happening with too great frequency in Guyana today by populist political postures. As a result, rather than give the government the “benefit of the doubt” – which is all that is required in the realm of trust in the public arena – the Opposition automatically assumes that they are out to do them in. They expect the worse and take pre-emptive, “defensive” steps. Quite frequently, and not too surprisingly, expectations have a self-fulfilling effect as followers respond in kind.
What we are suggesting is that this dour attitude has not taken us anywhere – except to become more frustrated in the Hobbesian, dog-eat-dog world that ironically, we have helped to create. The Opposition has to jump off this carousel. Their supporters can begin by (maybe gingerly) giving the government a chance. Be objective in how many times their trust is violated. More often than not, a deeper understanding of government will be created among traditional Opposition supporters through repeated interactions. They will discover shared values and goals, allowing trust to grow as Guyanese to a higher and qualitatively different level.