Do you trust most of the people you encounter?

Dr. Garland prepares to fall
Trust fall by klndonnelley via Flickr

“Americans don’t trust each other anymore,” writes Connie Cass of the Associated Press.

We’re not talking about the loss of faith in big institutions such as the government, the church or Wall Street, which fluctuates with events. For four decades, a gut-level ingredient of democracy — trust in the other fellow — has been quietly draining away.

These days, only one-third of Americans say most people can be trusted. Half felt that way in 1972, when the General Social Survey first asked the question.

Forty years later, a record high of nearly two-thirds say “you can’t be too careful” in dealing with people.

Today’s Question: Do you trust most of the people you encounter?

  • Rich in Duluth

    Yes, I figure most people are like me, busy living life and minding my own business.

    However, I try to be realistic. I know there are a small number of people who will try to take advantage of any lapses in my personal security. So, I do the common sense things people should do to keep personal information confidential. I also try to pay
    attention when I’m out and stay aware of those who are around me.

    My biggest concern is about those folks who are just not paying attention. On the road, I look way ahead, both ways at all intersections, and keep an eye on the rear view mirror.

  • Doug Duwenhoegger

    I don’t trust anyone that I don’t know. Have you seen the way people act when they don’t think people are watching or when they are driving? Humans are ultimately completely and definitively self interested monkeys. You have to prove you are trustworthy and even then likely when push comes to shove prepare to be shoved.

  • Jim G

    As a public school teacher, I started out in 1974 with a positive attitude and rarely was disappointed by trusting colleagues and other adults I came to know. Over my career I had contact with many different types of people . On the whole, I would say that I could trust 95% of the parents to be trustworthy. The other 5%, not so much. During school fundraisers they would take product and write checks that bounced. During conferences some parents increasingly would brook no differences with their vision of the specialness of their child’s needs, wants, and desires. I was supposed to magically amplify and comply with their wishes, irregardless of my professional judgement. The day I was almost assaulted at my desk by an bulling, angry father for my attempts to rein in his son’s bullying of another child, was the day I knew that our society had changed. That year was 2005, four years after 9-11. Coincidence, you say? I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe in observable behavior. Fear is a big motivator of distrust, and many people are walking around with a lot of fear; economic needs, physical needs unmet, a general feeling that you are in this pickle alone. I know peg my trust level has dropped to 85% not the 95% of 40 years ago. Watch your back.

  • Dave T

    Human beings are inherently untrustworthy. I think distrusting people by default is healthy. Once they’ve demonstrated trustworthiness, I start to trust them a little more.

  • PaulJ

    I trust them when I’m taking a left with an arrow but not to write on my birthday.

  • James

    Our society mainly works because people are mainly trustworthy–especially in face-to-face interactions. I too sense that we are trending the way of the majority of countries in this world, but we still have a long ways to go.
    Our impression of regression on the trust front may partly result from the Internet, where we all spend too much time, and where we are all exposed to far to much fiction.

  • Sue de Nim

    I fear projection has a lot to do with this. People tend to assume that others are likely to be similar to themselves. Trustworthy people assume most folks are trustworthy, the generous assume most are goodhearted, scoundrels assume most are scoundrels, slackers assume most are lazy, sociopaths assume most only care about themselves, etc. So if 2/3 think people are untrustworthy, they probably are, or would be if they didn’t fear the consequences.

    • JQP

      True. Perception is more powerful than fact. Psychology rules.

  • Jamie

    I trust people to do what’s in their own short-term best interest. That means I trust them to drive on the right hand side of the road so they don’t get killed by oncoming traffic. I trust them to work at a job so they can feed and clothe themselves. I trust them to mostly do what they’re supposed to do because it’s too big of a hassle to buck the trend.

    I think the short-term vs. long-term thinking is what has changed in society. People used to do what was in their own long-term best interest. Being honest and trustworthy pays off over the long-term, not always over the short-term. We’ve all seen people take shortcuts that aren’t fair without suffering the natural consequences – multiple personal bankruptcies without changing the behavior that caused them, backstabbing people at work, exaggerating on a resume, waiting to look for that new job because theirs an extended unemployment limit, etc. I think it also comes back to lack of community. People don’t stay in one place at the same job their whole lives. We don’t know each other as well as we used to, so it’s easier to remake ourselves and start over with a fresh batch of suckers.

    That being said, I have a friend who has an irresponsible streak with his personal possessions. He’s left things in multiple public places ( a digital camera, a cell phone, a wallet) and had them each returned by someone trustworthy. It gives me hope that I’m wrong about society.

  • Charlie Peliska

    I tend to trust people a bit more than perhaps I should – but I try very hard to give everyone a chance, and have faith in other people. I think that overall, our population has become ever more cynical, divided, and short sighted. Politicians plan for the next election cycle instead of what’s good long term for their constituents, and the country as a whole. The television networks emphasize the bad over the good – and how everyone is out to get you, your children, your elderly parents. Watching the “news” without the use of critical thinking would make just about anyone wind up curled up in the corner, or going into a “prepper” mindset. (don’t get me wrong, I wholly agree with the motto of Be Prepared, but there is a difference between preparing for natural disasters that are likely to hit your area, vs. preparing for the complete collapse of society as we know it) I think it is largely because of this change in the delivery of news – instead of people like Cronkite, Murrow and other respected journalists, we now have the talking heads on CNN/FNC/MSNBC that don’t exactly report news – that both politicians and the general public have changed so much.

  • Ralphy

    A stranger is just a friend I haven’t met. That has been my philosophy for as long as I can remember. Have I been disappointed? Occasionaly. Have I been rewarded? Overwhelmingly so.

  • Brittany

    I don’t trust people as much as I’d like to. I actually think the media plays a huge role in this. Even my most trusted news sources (like Minnesota Public Radio) present a disproportionate number of stories on people cheating each other, abusing each other, killing each other. This deeply impacts the way I view the world and how suspicious I am of other people. Rationally, I don’t believe that most people are untrustworthy scoundrels who are out to get me, but emotionally I react this way, because those are the stories I hear, over and over again. I wish media stories would represent a more accurate ratio of benevolent to nefarious acts happening in our community and around the world.