Imagine what would happen if everyone did these four things: control what they can control, build and maintain trust, become better listeners and communicators, and last but not least, innovate through their imagination. How much more effective would they be? What impact would that have on our society?
Building these principles and practices into your life melts away frustration, distrust, anger, and hatred, and they replace those with vision, peace, hope, calmness, and love. In today’s episode, we are going to suggest four things that you can do to create greater trust, stronger relationships, and hope that produces permanent positive change.
Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to the Becoming Your Best podcast, wherever you may be in the world. We’re so excited to have you join us today. What a privilege it is to be together with you!
A friend recently sent me an insightful and brilliant article published in the Atlantic by David Brooks. And in this podcast, I’m going to take about five to eight minutes to provide some of the insights from this article to lay the foundation for the core part of things that you and I can do to become our best to make a difference. The title of this article written by David Brooks is ‘America is Having a Moral Convulsion’. He mentions in the subtitle, ‘Levels of trust in this country – in our institutions, in our politics, and in one another – are in precipitous decline. And when social trust collapses, nations fail. Can we get it back before it is too late?’
Here’s some of the background that he provides. So just hang in here with me because this is very interesting. And the research and study that’s been done helps us know what to do, what are possible steps that we can take. He points out that high-trust societies have what Fukuyama calls ‘spontaneous sociability’. People can organize more quickly, initiate action, sacrifice for the common good. And when you look at research on social trust, you find all sorts of virtuous feedback loops. Trust produces good outcomes, which then produce more trust. And then, in high-trust societies corruption is lower and entrepreneurship is catalyzed. Higher-trust nations have lower economic inequality because people feel connected to each other and are willing to support a more generous welfare state. People in a high-trust society are more civically engaged. Now, nations that score high in social trust, like the Netherlands, Sweden, China, and Australia, have rapidly growing or developed economies. Nations with low social trust, like Brazil or Morocco or Zimbabwe, have struggling economies. And as the ethicist Sissela Bok once put it, “Whatever matters to human beings, trust is the atmosphere in which it thrives.”
So during most of the 20th century, through depression and wars, Americans expressed high faith in their institutions. In 1964, for example, 77% of Americans said they trusted the federal government to do the right thing, most or all of the time. Then came the last two moral convulsions in the late 1960s and ‘70s amid Vietnam and Watergate, and trust in institutions collapsed. By 1994, only one in five Americans said they trust a government to do the right thing. Then came the Iraq War and the financial crisis and the election of a new president more recently, and institutional trust levels remain pathetically low. What changed was the rise of a large group of people who were actively and poisonously alienated, who were not only distrustful but explosively distrustful. Explosive distrust is not just an absence of trust or a sense of detached alienation. It is an aggressive animosity and an urge to destroy. Explosive distrust is the belief that those who disagree with you are not just wrong, but illegitimate. In 1997, 64% of Americans had a great or a good deal of trust in the political competence of their fellow citizens. Today, only a third of Americans feel that way.
So falling trust in institutions is bad enough. It’s when people lose faith in each other that societies really begin to fall apart. In most societies, interpersonal trust is stable over the decades. But for some like Denmark, where about 75% of the people say the people around them are trustworthy, or the Netherlands where two-thirds say so, the numbers have risen. In America, interpersonal trust is in catastrophic decline. And so, in 2014, according to the General Social Survey conducted by NORC, at the University of Chicago, only 30.3% of Americans agreed that most people can be trusted. This is the lowest number the survey has recorded since it started asking questions in 1972. So today, a majority of Americans say they don’t trust other people when they first meet them. Well, for this reason, the Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam argues that it’s a great mistake, to separate the attitude of trust from the behavior which is morally right action. People become trusting when the world around them is trustworthy, and when they are surrounded by people who live up to their commitments, and when they experience their country as a fair place. As Vallier puts it, trust levels are a reflection of the moral condition of a nation at any given time. I’d add that the high national trust is a collective moral achievement. High national distrust is a sign that people have earned the right to be suspicious. And trust isn’t a virtue, it’s a measure of other people’s virtue.
So, by late June of this year, American national pride was lower than at any time since Gallup started measuring. In 2001 is when they first started doing that measurement. American happiness rates were at their lowest in nearly 50 years. In another poll, 17% of Americans said that they were proud. And according to the NBC News and Wall Street Journal poll, 80% of American voters believe that things in the country are out of control. Can anybody relate to that? Gun sales in June of this year, 2020, were 145% higher than in the previous year, which was already high. And by late June, it was clear that America was enduring a full bore crisis of legitimacy, an epidemic of alienation, and a loss of faith in the existing order. So, do you have the energy to build new organizations that address our problems? How about the way that the Brits did it in 1830 and the Americans did it in 1890? In other words, personal trust can exist informally between two friends who rely upon each other, but social trust is built within organizations and institutions in which people are bound together to do joint work in which they struggle together long enough for trust to gradually develop, in which they develop shared understandings of what’s expected of each other, in which they are enmeshed in rules and standards of behavior that keep them trustworthy when their commitments might otherwise falter. Social trust is built within the nitty-gritty work of organizational life: going to meetings and driving people places or keeping your word on holding meetings, planning events, sitting with the ailing, rejoicing with the joyous, showing up for the unfortunate. Ultimately, our ability to rebuild trust depends on our ability to join and stick with organizations.
For centuries, America was the greatest success story on Earth, a nation of steady progress, dazzling achievement, and growing international power. That story threatens to end on our watch, crushed by the collapse of our institutions, and the implosion of social trust. But trust can be built through the accumulation of small heroic acts, by the outrageous gesture of extending vulnerability in a world that is mean, and by proffering faith in other people when that faith may not be returned. Sometimes trust blooms when somebody holds you against all logic when you expect it to be dropped. It ripples across society as multiplying moments of beauty in a storm.
You may enjoy this entire article. You can go to the Atlantic and just look up David Brooks. Well, during the year 2020, we’ve seen the oppressive COVID-19 pandemic, natural disasters, violence, bitter politics – to just name a few. Perhaps people are worried about many of the things we’ve already discussed today. Many people are angry that trust is low, and there is widespread frustration and discouragement. So what is one to do? How can we overcome frustration, distrust, and anger? As a matter of fact, when I was thinking about the title for this podcast, that’s exactly what I was thinking. And then I thought to myself, “Holy smokes, that’s pretty negative!” Maybe we should rename this, “How to remain positive, hopeful, trusting, loving and calm.” But these two titles are the counterpoint of exactly what we’re discussing today. And the answer is in behavior that makes a difference one person at a time. One person doing the right set of things, one person becomes two with time, and then it becomes a team and an organization and institutions. And it flows over to society.
And so today, I would like to suggest four things that you can do that create greater trust, stronger relationships, positivity, and hope that produces permanent positive change. And so, here are the four.
Number one is, control what you can control. Control your thoughts, your attitudes, discipline your response, and your actions. These are all things within your sphere of control. And when you focus on what you can control, it influences others, including teams, organizations, and institutions. A good example of this is to exercise your right to vote and to campaign for principle candidates that can help restore character and competency and trust into the government institutions. This, in turn, helps build character and competency across the board as they interact with one another and begins restoring trust in society, generally. This is just one example of controlling what you can control, of finding a sense of happiness and peace because you’re doing what you can about it. You can’t control everything, but you can control yourself. And you cannot control, for example – and it’s important to see this distinction – weather, taxes, what others do or say about you or to others, others’ opinions or attitudes, tone, or even the government. And when you focus on what you cannot control, it leads to frustration, wasted time and energy, and ineffectiveness. In other words, when we focus on control, it helps us have a foothold to going forward and doing something about it. I can’t do everything but that what I can do, I will do – that’s the idea. And so, this takes steely discipline and asking yourself, “Can I control this or not control it? And I’m going to operate within my sphere of influence.” This then becomes productive.
Number two. So number one thing that you can do, we can all do is, control what we can control and be sure that those actions are principle-based. We’re doing the right kind of things. This will give us confidence and hope. The second of these four things is to build – conscientiously be determined to build and maintain trust. Practice the Golden Rule: be good, and do good. These kinds of actions can even be simple. I love what Mother Teresa taught us around this principle. She said, “Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, and a beautiful thing.” So, just think of trust, if you will, as a gas gauge. And think in your mind right now, where that gauge is – empty, medium, or full – with other people, with other institutions, with people you associate with or teams or customers, whatever it might be. If you set that gas gauge right in your chest, right in the feeling center of your heart and spirit, it will go to work, it will register as you look around with your eyes and think about your partner, your family, your teammates, and how you interact with society. Where does the needle fall as far as what you’re concerned of where that trust level is? And then, be determined that you will make a difference by making independent choices that move the needle up. You may have heard the question, which raindrop created the flood? Well, it’s a lot of raindrops right? And when you do enough of something, it can cause a flood, it can be a flood of goodness.
And so, this is what leadership is all about. Leadership is to unilaterally build trust. And this kind of leadership is needed now more than ever, especially when others treat you poorly, harshly, or get in your face. This is when you can exercise leadership. You make a unilateral decision to be principled, to do correct things, and to build trust. What actions can you take? And when there is high trust, it’s easier to solve even the most complex problems together. But when there is low trust, it is difficult to solve even easy problems. So what are those actions? Number one, we control what we can control. This is choosing your thoughts, it’s choosing your response, it’s choosing your action, and one of the great things you can control is to build and maintain trust. What are those individual actions that you can take that push that trust meter needle to full? And now we are starting to make a difference, and now you feel growth within yourself, and accountability, and the ability to make a difference.
Number three. Number one is, control what you can control. Number two is, build and maintain trust – those individual things. Number three is to be a great listener and communicator. And one of the greatest gifts you can give to another individual is effective listening and communication. And that leads to collaboration, especially when people see things differently. When they know you understand them, that you’re willing to take the time to see where they’re coming from and the great respect that that offers. When one person has the skill to be a great listener, for example, it is a game-changer. Listen carefully, without preparing your response, whatever in your mind, and really be determined you’ll capture what they have to offer. And this is a mindset and a skill set. The mindset is, I have a need to listen because I don’t know everything. And now, therefore because of that, you’re willing to really work at it. And one of the most important skills that you can have in listening, besides really paying attention, looking at their body language, and listening to the tone of voice is to acknowledge the other person’s effort to share their thoughts. Just thank them. And, as you do that, they appreciate that – again, trust levels start going up – and then confirm understanding. And this is how you make it complete. “It sounds like or it looks like this. Or you feel like this.” And then, they can confirm that or not but now you’re on the road to making a difference in other people’s lives.
This is one of those things that not only builds trust, but it is a unilateral choice of action. And, for example, the other side of this coin is it’s not only being an effective communicator, being a really great listener. And by the way, you’ll get results today. Try it with your partner or spouse. Try it with your children. When they bring something up, just fully listen, acknowledge them, “Thank you for being willing to share this. Let me be sure I’ve got it.” Watch the change that happens. You can do it with your team and professionally and civically. So this is where excellence begins, really.
Now, the other part of being an effective communicator is knowing how to bring something up if you have an issue that you think can make a difference. Well, you want to bring it up in a way that other people feel comfortable. So, if you have an issue, learn the skill to express your issue in a collaborative fashion. And you can do it with something like this: “I’ve been thinking of something, and would love to get your opinion on this idea. Would that be okay?” “Oh, yeah.” So you share the idea or issue that you have. “And so, how do you see that? What are your thoughts on it?” So, as you build and practice this skill, it will create greater civility, happiness, transformation, and trust – whether in your home, organization or in society in general.
And last of all. So, the first three: control what you can control, build and maintain trust with your unilateral choices and actions, and number three is, be a great listener and communicator. Now, number four, is with this foundation laid, you can lead to good, better, best. And that is, innovate through imagination to create best-type solutions. You’re not helpless. You are endowed with imagination. And imagination is one of the great gifts given to humanity. Some people just aren’t quite using it. They quit using it after they got out of being a child. They became a little jaded because people started telling them no. But I am here to tell you that it is a wonderful gift. And you can use this gift to create positive change, to come up with actions, solutions, and a vision that leads to great trust and effectiveness. You can mind map, brainstorm, and keep a journal of feelings and ideas, as these thoughts and ideas are refined and start growing like a wonderful seed. Help lead others to a better place, with high trust. You can identify what you’re trying to accomplish. In other words, what’s the vision. And this is leadership – leading people to a vision of going forward and once you agree upon that vision, then you can collectively brainstorm and mind map and get to a better place, all with the aim to make your good better, and your better best. And whether this would be with your partner, your family, your team or organization, this is the end game to be among the best at what you do.
So, imagine what would happen if our elected officials did these four things: control what they can control, build and maintain trust – that’s one of the things they worked on – building strong relationships, which is the glue that leads to being able to collaborate and solve problems, to be a great listener, an effective communicator, and last of all, is to innovate through imagination. What would happen if our elected officials did these things? How much more effective would they be? How much greater trust and better outcomes to complex issues, challenges, and opportunities, and what impact would that have on our society? And imagine the impact that doing these four things would have on building strong relationships, teams, and organizations. And imagine just for a moment, the impact this kind of behavior would have on your own family, on your partnership, and where it applies to your children and grandchildren. Building these principles and practices into your life melts away the frustration, distrust, anger, and hatred and they replace those with vision, peace, hope, calmness, and love. One is enormously counterproductive and leads you and me and us into a dead-end that just doesn’t work. The other is enormously productive, leading to stronger individuals, stronger organizations, and a stronger society, a healthier society.
Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed individuals can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.” I love that quote! You can make a difference by focusing on what you control, living a principled life, which in turn radiates a light which blesses individuals, organizations, institutions, and whole societies. This is an answer of positive action that directly impacts what David Brooks describes as the moral convulsion. It starts with you. It starts with me, and having faith, and moving forward with hope. David is right. This trust, confidence, and ability to solve problems together takes months and years and it’s worth it because the fruits will bless generations to come. Thank you. I hope that you have gotten an idea or two that’s helpful that helps us all get to a better place. It is such an honor having the chance to associate with you. I wish you a great day!