We need to rebuild trust

October 24, 2006|By Daniel L. Buccino

The controversy about our electronic voting systems is intensified because it occurs at a time when public trust in our elected officials and corporate executives is in the basement.

Since the counting of votes takes place essentially in closed rooms by a few individuals, and we are told, "Just trust us," how will we hear about any problems encountered in the final tabulations? These are as inevitable as were the problems with the input side of the equation.

The legacy of the contested elections of 2000, 2004 and now 2006, where there have been clear and repeated, but differing, methods of disenfranchisement, is that elections now will be decided by the courts rather than the people. This sad consequence only adds to voter mistrust. Why bother voting at all?

Citizens are scrutinized at every turn by our government, by street-corner cameras, by insurers and by credit bureaus, yet we are never allowed to watch the watchers. We're simply told, again, "Trust us."

The pretext for the war in Iraq - where things were said to exist that didn't, and where things were sure not to happen that did - is one of the major causes of anxiety in the population. We don't know what to believe or whom to trust anymore.

The recently released National Intelligence Estimate, the most authoritative statement from the intelligence community, argues that the war on terror is in fact spreading terror around the world.

The White House insists we're safer, but not safe.

The maddening lose-lose double-bind offered us is that we can't be safe unless we pursue the terrorists even though it inflames them more, and we can't be safe if we back off because it allows them to regroup and plot other 9/11-type attacks. Countries such as Indonesia, Turkey and Canada, which have opposed U.S. policies in the war on terror, have not been spared from terror attacks.

We're told we're at war, yet nothing has to change. We're frightened into a chronic state of emergency, yet reassured that there's nothing to worry about. Crisis is the new normal. And a state of crisis does not build trust; it causes fear and disengagement.

But how can we trust, whom can we trust, and who can be held accountable to rebuild trust? The blame for the e-voting mess, as with the Iraq debacle, is so widely dispersed. The buck doesn't stop anywhere.

Trust will require the articulation of specific strategies for safety, not just more fear-mongering. Whether at home or in the world, trust is a process, a staircase that must be scaled successfully, however steep it may be.

Current political and marketplace discourse relies on the false premise that repeated assertions of something make it true. But trust is not built on words; it is built on actions. Someone genuinely hoping to rebuild trust asks, "What can I do?" and does not just keep asserting, "Trust me."

Trust does not arise in a word, or even a single act: Trust emerges over time in a series of actions that match the words that promise good intentions.

Mark Foley, the former Republican congressman from Florida, had been charged with keeping children safe from Internet predators and might now be charged as an Internet predator. His own claims of adolescent sexual abuse do not mitigate his abuse of trust of those for whom he should have acted in a more parental and protective role.

In family life, it is common to want everyone else to change without having to do anything different oneself. But in a variant of Mohandas Gandhi's teachings, we each must live the change we want to see in the world. Establishing trust in the family requires that we remain on our best behavior with those to whom we are closest.

Now more than ever, we need to rebuild trust so that we can ensure that our children, our elections and our world are as safe as they can be.

Daniel L. Buccino is a founder and director of the Baltimore Psychotherapy Institute and on the clinical faculties of the University of Maryland School of Social Work and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. His e-mail is dbuccino@jhmi.edu.

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