Metro

  • Written by Deborah Perron Tollefsen, Professor of Philosophy, University of Memphis

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently revised its guidance[1] to acknowledge that COVID-19 can be spread through tiny airborne particles, known as aerosols. It had earlier removed a similar guidance from its website[2], saying it was “posted in error.”

Similarly, there have been conflicting messages[3] from the Trump administration regarding the use of masks. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany has repeatedly said that masks are a recommendation, not a requirement. But others in the administration, such as White House counselor Kellyanne Conway and Vice President Mike Pence, have urged people to wear masks.

Such messaging can lead people to wonder what to believe and whom to trust. As a philosopher studying the nature of trust[4] and its function in institutions, I explore the analogy between trust in people and trust in institutions.

Just as conflicting messages can lead us to distrust people, they can also erode the public’s trust in institutions.

What is trust?

Philosophers tend to distinguish between two varieties of trust[5]: practical trust and intellectual trust.

Practical trust involves trusting that someone will either do something or refrain from doing it. For example, I might trust that my friend will water my plants while I am out of town.

Intellectual trust involves trusting what someone says. In particular, when I trust the word of another, I trust that what they have said is true.

Both types of trust are subject to erosion.

When individuals trust one another, they expect certain things to happen; thus, trust involves a certain reliance. For instance, when I trust that my friend will water my plants while I am out of town, I rely on her to do so.

However, trust always involves a risk. If there were no risk of my friend failing to water my plants, I wouldn’t have to trust her.

More than mere reliance

But I also rely on things or objects. I rely on my car to start in the morning, my computer to properly store information and my phone calendar to tell me when my next meeting is. But there is a difference between relying on objects and trusting people.

Philosopher Annette Baier[6] explains in a paper that trust among people also carries the possibility of a betrayal[7]. When objects fail to do what is expected, irritation, anger and disappointment are common emotional responses, but betrayal seems misplaced.

Why mixed messaging can erode trust in institutions Trusting people means believing that they will act out of goodwill. Photo by Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images[8]

Baier argues that to trust someone is to believe that they will act out of goodwill[9] toward you. If you are merely relying on people to act in self-interested ways, then it isn’t trust. For instance, if I rely on my colleague to replace me on a university committee knowing that he will agree to do so only because of his desire to gain more power, I don’t, according to Baier, trust my colleague.

Some philosophers have argued that trust involves not just a belief but also an emotional component.

University of Melbourne philosopher Karen Jones[10], for instance, argues that trust also carries a feeling of optimism[11] that people will do what they are being trusted with.

Another scholar, Richard Holton[12], has argued that trust involves the possibility of feeling the emotion of betrayal[13]. When a person trusts another, they will be inclined to feel betrayal when the person fails to meet their expectations.

How does trust erode?

Trust and trustworthiness are two distinct things. People may trust someone even when the person they trust is untrustworthy. People may also fail to trust someone[14] who is, in fact, trustworthy.

Importantly, trust can erode even when people are competent, intend to do what they say or speak only the truth. The mere perception of not being trustworthy is sometimes enough to erode trust.

Feminist philosophers such as Miranda Fricker[15] and Kristie Dotson[16] have pointed out[17] the ways in which gender and race[18] impact perceptions of trustworthiness and result in women and minorities receiving less credibility[19] than they deserve due to prejudicial stereotypes.

[Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter[20].]

Steadying the mind

Another factor that contributes to the erosion of trust is the perception of inconsistency. A person who says one thing and then says the opposite the next day may lose the trust of their audience.

Our ability to rely on the word of another essentially depends on what philosopher Bernard Williams[21] has called “steadying the mind[22].”

The idea here is that becoming a reliable source of information involves having convictions that avoid fluctuating without good reasons. “Flip-flopping” too much can lead one to appear unreliable.

Philosophical theories of trust have tended to focus almost exclusively on trusting people, but we engage in relations of trust with institutions as well as individuals.

The erosion of public trust surrounding CDC guidelines is the erosion of trust in an institution – not in a particular person. Reflecting on how trust erodes in the interpersonal case might shed light on how the erosion of trust[23] happens in the institutional case.

In particular, inconsistent and conflicting messages produced by an institution can contribute[24] to a perception that the institutional “mind” is “unsteady” – calling into question its reliability, competency and intentions.

Just like people, institutions need to learn to present themselves[25] to others as agents who, as Bernard Williams said, “have moderately steady outlooks or beliefs.” Without such stability, the public’s trust in institutions can erode.

References

  1. ^ recently revised its guidance (www.wsj.com)
  2. ^ removed a similar guidance from its website (www.cnn.com)
  3. ^ conflicting messages (www.usatoday.com)
  4. ^ philosopher studying the nature of trust (www.memphis.edu)
  5. ^ distinguish between two varieties of trust (plato.stanford.edu)
  6. ^ Annette Baier (www.utimes.pitt.edu)
  7. ^ possibility of a betrayal (www.jstor.org)
  8. ^ Photo by Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images (www.gettyimages.com)
  9. ^ that they will act out of goodwill (www.jstor.org)
  10. ^ Karen Jones (philpeople.org)
  11. ^ feeling of optimism (www.jstor.org)
  12. ^ Richard Holton (scholar.google.com)
  13. ^ feeling the emotion of betrayal (www.tandfonline.com)
  14. ^ fail to trust someone (plato.stanford.edu)
  15. ^ Miranda Fricker (www.gc.cuny.edu)
  16. ^ Kristie Dotson (philosophy.msu.edu)
  17. ^ pointed out (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com)
  18. ^ gender and race (onlinelibrary.wiley.com)
  19. ^ receiving less credibility (www.tedxmilehigh.com)
  20. ^ Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter (theconversation.com)
  21. ^ Bernard Williams (plato.stanford.edu)
  22. ^ steadying the mind (press.princeton.edu)
  23. ^ erosion of trust (www.kateto.net)
  24. ^ contribute (qz.com)
  25. ^ learn to present themselves (press.princeton.edu)

Authors: Deborah Perron Tollefsen, Professor of Philosophy, University of Memphis

Read more https://theconversation.com/why-mixed-messaging-can-erode-trust-in-institutions-147631

Metropolitan republishes selected articles from The Conversation USA with permission

Visit The Conversation to see more

Entertainment News

SHERYL LEE RALPH PRESENTS THE 30TH ANNUAL DIVAS: SIMPLY SINGING UPDATE

DIVAS Simply Singing!, the longest consecutive running musical AIDS benefit in the United States, hits a major milestone in 2020, hosting its 30th annual fundraiser for The D.I.V.A. Foundation as a virtual event and on Saturday, December 5th on K...

News Co - avatar News Co

MICHAEL MESEY and AMERICAN GREED Release “Together”

“Together” As the go-to special show and traveling drummer for Chuck Berry for many years, Michael Mesey had a blast creating explosive moments on stage with the legendary musical pioneer all over the country. Yet one of his most cherished me...

News Co - avatar News Co

Actress Paris Hepburn Fights Through Covid Crisis

The entertainment industry has been hard hit in 2019 as we all know.  Since Covid-19 started entering the US in January 2019, one by one, movie studios, talent agencies, actors, crews and everything else associated with the entertainment industry...

News Co - avatar News Co

Why You Should Explore Your Creativity

You might think that you weren’t fortunate enough to be gifted at birth with creativity. You might say, “Oh, my brother got the creative genes, and I didn’t,” or “Why would I want to be creative”? Someone once asked me that last question, to whi...

Angela Predhomme - avatar Angela Predhomme

What does being the Happiness Warrior mean to me?

I’ve always felt I’ve had an innate need to set things right. If I see someone or something struggling, my nature is to help. I want them to feel good about themselves and their abilities but most importantly to find the best solution that make...

Eric North aka “The Happiness Warrior” - avatar Eric North aka “The Happiness Warrior”

THE WORLD OPERATES NOT ON REALITY, BUT ON PERCEPTION OF REALITY

Ben Kingsley's character Cosmo in the 1992 cult classic Sneakers prophetically quipped , The world doesn't operate on reality, but on perception of reality. Those words have come to roost in this year 2020 as we find ourselves living in a world ...

Brandyn Cross - avatar Brandyn Cross

Metropolitan Business News

5 Key Factors To Starting A Website

Every business needs a website to be successful. However, this is a challenge for many due to the lack of coding and designing skills. The good news is, you do have a way around this—hire a deve...

News Co - avatar News Co

So You Want To Be A Project Manager? Here's What You Must Do

Project management is often a popular choice for people looking to make a mark in the organizations they work for. It's a great choice as well. If you hate monotony, love getting people and res...

News Co - avatar News Co

How to Deliver the Perfect Elevator Pitch

Do you struggle with explaining your career with professional or personal contacts, and you want to make a lasting impression? Whether you're looking for a job or building up your network, a wel...

Adam Jacobs - avatar Adam Jacobs

Three Asian Countries That are Leaders in Outsourcing

Would it surprise you to know that three of the top five ranked countries for ease of doing business are in Asia? Would it surprise you more to know that India and China aren’t even in the top 3...

Adam Jacobs - avatar Adam Jacobs

FCB and oOh! help Kiwis vote with dynamic campaign for Electoral Commission

oOh!media and FCB NZ are helping Kiwi voters exercise their democratic rights this general election, via a localised dynamic Out of Home campaign for the New Zealand Electoral Commission. The c...

Lighthouse Communications. - avatar Lighthouse Communications.

MODEL/ACTOR THORN CASTILLO IS THE “NEW FACE” OF SCHICK STYLIST

In 2019, just as his multi-faceted career was taking off, Thorn Castillo heard Robert Downey Jr. offer a sage bit of advice during an interview on photographer/director Sam Jones’ acclaimed multi-...

News Company - avatar News Company

Writers Wanted


News Co Media Group

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion