Who Do You Trust?

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If you read my blogs regularly, you know that I am interested in research and data.  I particularly find opinion polls helpful in understanding trends and behavior.  On a daily basis, I receive reports 
from several polling centers that measure public opinion about a wide range of topics.

As you likely have read or heard on the news, the approval ratings of Congress are at an all-time low … less than 10%.  Despite the fact that incumbents continue to be re-elected regularly, Americans believe that most politicians are doing a bad job in almost every way. This high level of dissatisfaction with Congress is very consistent among parties, areas of the country and age groups.

But a recent Gallup poll raised more concern for me because it centered on honesty and ethical standards rather than performance.  It is one thing to assess performance.  But does inferior performance mean that the person lacks ethics or morality?  I can disagree strongly with a person’s point of view or position on an issue.  But does this make the person dishonest or unworthy of my trust?

This recent Gallup poll was conducted in late November through phone interviews with over 1,000 adults randomly selected from every state in the country.  Congress received the worst rating on honesty and ethics in the history of this survey, tying the previous low reached by lobbyists in the 2008 poll.  Over the years, lobbyists, car salespeople and telemarketers have been rated the least honest and most unethical.  But now Congress takes this dubious prize.

For your information, respondents rate nurses, pharmacists, medical doctors and teachers highly.  Nurses have received the highest rating almost every year for the past decade.  Clergy earned the top spot in the 80’s, but this rating has dropped considerably in the past several years.

What is curious to me is that the performance of nurses, pharmacists, doctors and teachers is not without criticism.  While there are many extraordinary caregivers and servants in these professions, we also know of experiences in healthcare and education where people feel underserved due to a lack of competence.  So why do we trust these people so much and our elected officials so little?

The answer seems to relate to our belief in the importance of an exchange in which we receive something we desire.  Research suggests that while we may not receive perfect service from our medical staff or educators, we do receive treatment, which typically leads to better health and an education that serves us well personally and professionally.  These exchanges are personal and direct.  We interact with our pharmacist, the nurse in the hospital, the professor in the classroom.

Many of us know a member of Congress.  And we certainly benefit from the work of Congress establishing laws, programs and services that improve the quality of our lives.  But it is not a personal exchange, and we are just as likely to blame Congress for laws, programs and services that we do not like or that cost too much money.  In fact, the problems we experience in healthcare and education are perceived to be caused by Congress and the political system in Washington.  But does this make the members of Congress dishonest and unworthy of trust.

Who do you trust?  How do people earn your trust?  What determines your perception of honesty?  Can incompetent people be honest and trustworthy?

Let me take this opportunity to wish you, your family and friends a very Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year!  I will be returning with my blog entries in early January.

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

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Guest Wednesday, 23 July 2014