Sunday, January 8, 2012

Trust & Doubt

As children, we humans trust everyone and everything. Of course, this reflects the fact that, at that age, we are entirely dependent on others for our basic needs and our worldly experience is extremely limited; indeed, if not closely supervised by adults, children would not survive their first years of life. Later in childhood, as we learn that certain cultural myths are fabrications, designed to mold our behavior, we begin to lose trust in our parents and other adults. By our teenage years, as the drive for independence intensifies, our tendency to doubt the wisdom of authority figures reaches its zenith.

Once unleashed, doubt will accompany us throughout our lives and trust will become its feeble stepsister. As we endure a variety of life changing events, from failed relationships to career setbacks, our ability to trust others is repeatedly tested. In concert with these personal experiences, we witness a litany of public scandals, reinforcing our distrust of political, religious and corporate leaders. Above all else, we come to appreciate the selfish nature of the human animal and exercise caution in our approach to personal, social and business relationships. Of course, love may trump doubt but then love blinds us in so many ways.

This general suppression of trust, accompanied by a willingness to express doubt, is actually healthy in a number of ways. Rather than going with the flow, we become more innovative and creative, feeding the advance of art, science and technology. The rise of entrepreneurism, vital to any dynamic economy, is, in part, driven by the choice to trust one's own knowledge, skills and business instincts. In a broader sense, our willingness to doubt the wisdom of certain governmental policies or cultural practices is the first step toward their eradication. While a certain degree of trust is essential to foster social, commercial and international cooperation, it is doubt that protects human rights and advances our civilization.