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Trust in politics, institutions and each other is in steep decline

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Cover of Griffith Review #67: Matters of trust

In this review, Claudia Perry-Beltrame analyses the current trust deficit in public life and how we can reverse it.

MATTERS OF TRUST covers a collection of stories from diverse creative and academic writers. The volume is the latest release of the Griffith Review by editor Ashley Hay from Griffith University.

Matters of Trust discusses the eponymous topic from different perspectives. It covers personal accounts in the social and health area; profit motivations by corporations; and the state of democracy and politics in Australia.

Some stories are current, some historic. Others take fictional or poetic forms. Some make trust explicit, while others are subtle, requiring some thought and reflection. As a collective, the text discuss how trust builds and collapses between people and institutions.

The themes found in Matters of Trust include:

  • Engagement and collaboration;
  • Power, authority and the loss of integrity by the powerful;
  • Transparency of, and access to, information;
  • The absence of good connections between government and people;
  • The need for ethical behaviour; 
  • The need for new approaches in a more complex world.

The writing style across the entries is notably positive and subtle. As a result, it does not convey the true urgency of building trust in our present society and institutions.

Many stories left me wondering whether the authors wanted the reader to think between the lines. Or were they influenced by matters of distrust and resulting caution of our present political environment?

This wonder also highlighted a gap in the discussion on trust.

In 'Love, Fear and the Destiny of Nations’, Richard Barrett shows how we only trust leadership when leaders demonstrate the strength of their character and competence.

In the ‘New leadership paradigm’, he discusses how trust requires one to trust themselves; to have some semblance of personal and spiritual cohesion. Self-knowledge and self-trust come before others can trust you.

Most of these essays and stories address the importance of competence and the issue from an institutional perspective. On the whole, it fails to illustrate how one can develop into a good leader, by becoming more mature in order to instil trust in others. 

Regardless of this lacuna, Matters of Trust is worth a read. It improves one's understanding of the nature of trust; its fragility and what is required to develop it. The text makes clear the mutual condition of trust, that demands constant work from all parties. Work reflected in all our actions.

Finally, the essays and stories provide potential solutions for the future. Some involve the role of the general population with a call to action to alleviate the present trust deficit.

Claudia Perry-Beltrame is the Managing Director of Cultural Inspirations, a social business providing change management services to co-create change in organisations and society. 

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