Five Ways to Rebuild Trust

By Jeremy Adam Smith | September 1, 2008 | 0 comments

1. Meet the neighbors. According to many studies, meeting neighbors is one of the surest ways to build social trust, especially if you live in a culturally or economically diverse neighborhood. Consider organizing block parties or potlucks, or just saying “hello” to people in the morning.

2. Join a group. Nations with vibrant membership organizations, from bowling leagues to environmental advocacy groups have higher levels of social trust. Getting involved with local, state, and national organizations—and signing up friends, family, and neighbors—fosters social networks as well as trust.

3. Build bridges between groups. In comparisons of 31 countries, Pamela Paxton found that membership organizations that wall themselves off from others actually diminish trust in their societies. By contrast, nations with many kinds of membership organizations that work together to reach common goals or bridge social divides show higher levels of general trust among citizens.

4. Turn off the TV. Television can isolate us from each other, highlight the worst aspects of our society, and privilege one-dimensional images over deliberation or dialogue—all of which harms trust in each other and our institutions. We can build trust by getting news from other media and discussing the issues with other people.

5. Support minority protections, public education, and economic equality. This sounds political—and, in many ways, it is—but studies by Robert Putnam and others reveal that implementing these policies leads to more trusting societies. “In the short run, there is a tradeoff between diversity and community, but … wise policies (public and private) can ameliorate that tradeoff,” writes Putnam in a 2007 article in the journal Scandinavian Political Studies. “Community centers, athletic fields, and schools were among the most efficacious instruments for incorporating new immigrants a century ago, and we need to reinvest in such places and activities once again, enabling us all to become comfortable with diversity.”

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About The Author

Jeremy Adam Smith is producer and editor of the Greater Good Science Center’s website. He is also the author or coeditor of four books, including The Daddy Shift, Are We Born Racist?, and The Compassionate Instinct. Before joining the GGSC, Jeremy was a 2010-11 John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University. You can follow him on Twitter!


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