In ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ We Trust
How do you make decisions?
Or rather, how do you make good decisions? I think this process involves meaningfully considering good information. But what does that mean? How do we know if our information is good? What are the qualities of good information? Where do we get it?
The internet and our ever-expanding connectivity thrusts information into our psyches every time we turn it on. The rate at which we have to filter this information is unprecedented in human history. And that filtering process can be guided by many different goals— a sense of belonging, dissociating or avoiding discomfort, invoking an emotional response (gossip! drama! rage!), or, as I will argue for here, making a good decision.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately since the viral wave hit. I don’t have a TV and I’m not normally a news junkie, but watching the virus’s explosive trajectory into the world had me obsessed. I was spending hours every day reading about it, it seemed like everybody was, and between the info I read and witnessing the devastating impact on my hospitality industry clients and friends, I was on the verge of a panic attack for weeks.
The more information I consumed, the more enraged and overwhelmed I felt. It was hard to process the looming possibilities, the utter destruction of so many livelihoods and lives. And then the onslaught of pointless corporate emails while their employees still came to work, risking their & their family’s health because they didn’t really have the option not to. My heart broke for the ricochet of consequences and with the dawning reality that our society’s priorities have been seriously fucked up.
Then I read this article, and had myself a light bulb moment. I paused and took a deep breath for the first time in what felt like weeks. Maybe you need a deep breath.
Here, take one now.
My panic was not helpful. I didn’t need to read every hot take, headline, or statistic coming out of every news station, government office, or university research center. I didn’t need to let businesses or people in the grips of fear set my agenda for the day. I simply needed the right information for me to make the best choices possible. I needed information I trusted and then I needed to make thoughtful decisions for myself and the people my decisions impact.
But who could I trust?
I had watched Pandemic on Netflix, and was simultaneously surprised, horrified, and delighted that there are people who dedicate their lives to studying, tracking and preventing pandemics. Those people, it turns out, are on the internet. So the source material I turned to for what was happening and how to handle this situation comes from their Tweets, interviews, and articles.
What I needed to know was what my behavior should be during this time, and their information has helped determine my actions. Not only mine, but everyone in the great state of California. I have been incredibly impressed with the Governor & the Bay Area’s leadership during this time. They listened to scientists and public health experts, took swift action and have communicated clearly and compassionately throughout this process.
Matching guidance from my community leaders and the experts has been heartening, to say the least, especially considering the obscene train wreck at the federal level. The reality is still bleak, but strong leadership is grounding. There’s a best way forward here, and many people are earnestly trying to lead the way.
I’ve found information that comes from someone I believe is conscientious about what, why, and who they’re sharing with feels more trustworthy. Consistent actions that demonstrate good intentions and a willingness to say difficult things because they are important helps build my trust. How we handle unpleasant situations is a powerful opportunity to build trust in our social spheres.
This experience has revealed to me the gaping inadequacies of capitalism, and most businesses do not look great in the glow of this pandemic. Every company that sent out a generic “we are monitoring the situation” email or conveyed that they will prioritize profit over their staff’s health has failed to build trust. I fully understand that almost no businesses accounted for a disaster of this magnitude, and most emergency funds would be empty in a matter of weeks without layoffs during the shut down. I think everyone understands that. But how companies communicate with stakeholders and continue to care for their staff speaks volumes. I won’t soon forget it.
But I don’t need to be the first to know everything — in fact, I need to moderate the amount of information I take in. I just need to know who I trust when I do seek good information. The trust relies on a sense of integrity in the information an institution or leader chooses to share and why. It isn’t to rile up a bunch of people for clicks, sell a product, or get a hit of serotonin. It’s to contribute to a well-informed public who will hopefully cooperate in making good decisions amidst this difficult reality.
Trust at home
One of the main ways of dealing with the trauma of this experience is by leaning into our personal relationships. Lo and behold, trust is also an essential and rare quality in those. And it’s one I’ve long struggled with. I grew up conflating trust with “expecting a behavior”. I’m only now pulling the two concepts apart, deep into my thirties.
Expecting a behavior can be a hollow, tense and disappointing experience. Expecting someone to pop off when they’re inconvenienced or shut down when they’re hurt. Expecting someone to always be late or to cut you off when you’re trying to share something important. Expecting someone to prioritize their needs over yours or fail to show up when you need them. I have spent a lot of time in this world, on both the giving and receiving end. It’s a painful place.
Trust, on the other hand, is a warm, delicious and nourishing experience. Trusting someone to include your well-being when making a decision. Trusting someone to show up on time and devote quality time to you. Trusting someone to celebrate your wins and give you the benefit of the doubt. It’s a two-way street made all the sweeter because trust is earned through sustained effort. If you receive it, it’s generally because you are making good decisions with what you are doing and with whom.
The presence of trust makes good times extraordinary and bad times meaningful. It takes time and consistency to build. It doesn’t require perfection, but it requires the ability to regularly check ourselves, manage our emotions and ego, and consider those we care about. It’s not an easy project. But it is a worthwhile one.
I am spending a good amount of this newfound #StayAtHome time assessing and contemplating the relationships in my life. Who do I trust? My network is complex and ever-evolving, but being isolated for so long has made me realize that true trusting relationships on every level are the ultimate goal. I am putting more time and energy into cultivating my ability to trust and be trustworthy. I’m investing in the people and institutions who are willing to do that work themselves. And appreciating when trust shows up in my life.
Because the point of good decisions is not to be right or rich or popular. Those are ultimately empty experiences on their own. It is to live a meaningful life and contribute to a better world. To enjoy our relationships and our social contracts fully, without the resignation of feeling used or exploited or not considered at all. We all know distrust and we can do better.
It takes time, and that’s what we have right now.
Who do you trust? How will you decide?