Trust And The Limitations Of Success

One of the more bizarre facts one sees around Thailand is that people will live right next to the factory or store that they own. Clearly this is not accidental. There is a widespread (and accurate) feeling that for work to be done people need to feel that they are watched. The need to be watched makes work much less efficient, since supervision is not productive labor, and since it greatly limits the size of operations if people must be present to watch every site at all times.

It is curious to note the change in behavior of those in charge who are aware of Thai ways given the widespread practice of this custom. It must be widely known that Thais need to have constant supervision and people living right there in order to behave properly for such a system to endure. It suggests extremely low trust, the same sort of low trust that leads nations to view employers as censors of the political speech of their employees, or for employers to more generally monitor the internet usage of their workers. Where trust is lacking productivity must be lost in supervision, even if the hope is that this loss will be paid for by the greater productivity gains of those who only work well when supervised closely. Everything is a tradeoff.

We should note, though, that trust places a ceiling on success of an institution, a project, or a society. The need for constant supervision is greatly taxing, as it forces people to rebel in subtle ways. A lack of trust is contagious. If you act as if you don’t trust or respect others, they will return the favor. Some of us (myself included) are fairly ferocious and even occasionally spiteful about the way that we return the favor. Consider yourself warned. As a person who grew up in a low-trust environment it’s a matter that I’m very serious about.

But how does one go about building a high-trust culture? Trusting is an aspect of faith. For ordinary people to act in productive ways, they must see that hard work is repaid with honor and success. There must be a basic level of justice in economic and social dealings in order to encourage trust and hard work from the bottom up. All too often this is not the case, though. When people do not feel valued and appreciated, their work suffers as a result, especially if what is being asked is tedious and boring.

When the productivity of workers flags, though, it seems that instead of finding out what redesigns could make things better, that the automatic reply is to increase supervision, which reduces trust still further. It’s a shame that we have so few options in our toolbox when it comes to dealing with problems. It seems as if we are bent on self-destruction, willfully choosing ways of communication and interaction with others that over and over again produces conflict, strife, and problems. I do not exempt myself from this criticism; rather, I would not know this tendency if it was not so strongly manifest in myself.

Nonetheless, when we lack trust in others, we act in ways that lead other people to mistrust us, and we prevent the free flow of information, as well as of questions and suggestions and requests that would make life go easier. It appears as if we have thousands of years of experience in creating problems for ourselves and in hindering the building of harmonious relationships. Why do we never learn? Why do we let ourselves be mastered by our fears or pride or insecurity? It is hard to understand these matters, but when a factory manager moves in next door to his factory to make sure that his workers know they are being watched, one has reached a fairly low level of trust and ought to recognize that there are serious problems in the society that need to be resolved.

What are these problems? Do we have problems where birth so limits status that people have a hard time rising to the level of their competence or receiving credit where credit is due? Do we have a society where there is no respect between leaders and led and where exploitation of the masses is so common that those exploited have taken the only (and bad) options available to them, which are shirking and sabotage? Do we have a failure to recognize the common dignity and worthiness of all, in such a way that we build genuine communities instead of corrupt and power-hungry and competitive cliques as seems so common around the world? These are deep and dangerous matters, and worthy of considerable thought. What is sure, though, is that our level of trust for others, and the level of trust that others have for us, whether we are individuals or institutions or societies, marks a cap on our success that we cannot surmount until we have shown ourselves both more trusting and more trustworthy. How to do that is a difficult trick.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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14 Responses to Trust And The Limitations Of Success

  1. J.Richard Crant says:

    trust (n.) Look up trust at
    c.1200, from O.N. traust “help, confidence,” from P.Gmc. *traust- (cf. O.Fris. trast, Du. troost “comfort, consolation,” O.H.G. trost “trust, fidelity,” Ger. Trost “comfort, consolation,” Goth. trausti “agreement, alliance”). Related to O.E. treowian “to believe, trust,” and treowe “faithful, trusty” (see true). Meaning “businesses organized to reduce competition” is recorded from 1877. The verb (early 13c.) is from O.N. treysta “to trust.” Trust-buster is recorded from 1903.

    Trust is really a lonley word because without respect it stands on its own. In the case of a worker and his/her employer, it would be more of a matter of each person’s (boss, supervisor, etc. and employee) understanding and agreement with what can be termed “authority principles” by where a person is in agreement that to be efficient and productive, all concerned with final outcome be it product or service must hold high respect for position and empathise with the person who is responsible for commanding or overseeing that the impossible gets done on time and with quality.

    • Trust is indeed a lonely word, nowhere more lonely than in a world where people have very little confidence in others as at all, and where pressures between time/cost and quality are particularly rough, because there is no commitment to doing things a particular way in most cases, but rather endless oscillation.

  2. J.Richard Crant says:

    I believe that it is mentioned in scripture that God is no “respector of persons” and this says to me that God is a respector of position and being in position of authority whether consigned or willing is being in a position of great pressure and responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of welfare of others. Perhaps when we can empathise with them who watch over us and even be happy that we are in a less demanding position than many of them, we may qualify to be set free from anger , envy, jealousy, strife and competition, all to our great respect for our own position to help us the workers to earn self-respect towards ourselves and the trust and respect of thiose in authority and do the best we can to complete the whole of whatever it is that we are a part of.

    • There’s a good point in that. Those who desire power and see their offices as granting them personal respect are to be pitied, even if they tend to make poor leaders due to their own insecurity. People become bullies and tyrants and oppressors out of weakness and not out of strength, but their false projection of strength causes others to resist and disrespect them all the more (if generally privately). I have never considered myself to be in a less demanding position than leaders, largely because I have always considered myself responsible for speaking up when things were going wrong, to hold leaders accountable to the proper standard. I must admit that those who are less provocative might relax in the fact that leaders often handle the responsibilities that should belong to the common folk, but we are an age that seeks to slough off our responsibilities.

  3. J.Richard Crant says:

    I cannot feel that with any human capacity whether the mention of being in an “age” is not of any matter as much as would be the matter of maturity replacing the word “age”.

    • Well, I don’t mean age is in a calendar date, but rather our era and our times. We are not in a golden age, rather we are in a time and a place where people wish to abdicate their responsibilities and believe themselves entitled to what they want (and may even need) without requiring any effort on their part. It’s a problem we all have to struggle against in this age, regardless of our own age.

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