Challenge the Distrust and Isolation Trend

I ended last month’s feature article on a downer about the decline in trust generally in today’s society, documented by a recent Pew Research Center survey. As much as I, a self-proclaimed congenital optimist, dislikes delivering depressing news, this is important. If we don’t know and understand the problem, we can’t fix it. 

The distrust of the federal government by most (75%) Americans is not news. Perhaps worse, 64% of 10, 618 survey respondents think trust in each other had also decreased, even keeping neighbors apart. While 80% think the situation can improve –  there was no consensus on how- beyond the roughly 20% of adults who displayed consistently trustful attitudes.  

Levels of personal trust correlated with age, education, race ethnicity and household income. The high trusters generally tended to be older with higher household income, more education and be white. 

Perhaps alarming, if not surprising, the study found that almost half of young adults (age 18-29) were in the low trust category. And even more adults of all ages lacked confidence that Americans as a whole were capable of holding civil conversations with people whose views differed from theirs. Even high trusters had only a fair amount of confidence in the American people to: have civil conversations with people of dissimilar views; reconsider their views after learning new information; stay informed on important issues; and cast informed votes in elections. 

What individuals, employers and educators can do – My suggestions 

  • Individuals: First decide you want to change this situation and are willing to reach out to others out of your comfort zone. This requires a mindset that:

- challenges assumptions that cause biases

- is open to learning from differences of views

- recognizes it helps you to grow as a person, an employee and a leader/manager

  • Seek out face-to-face interaction and develop comfort with it, rather than depending on communicating mostly on devices.

  •  Read, watch, listen to a wider range of political and social views than those you naturally and comfortably gravitate to.

  • Learn the language of intergroup dialogue, and practice the art of civil conversation.

  •  Employers: Encourage and train/coach employees in trust building as part of professional development.

  • Educators: Recognize that trust, empathy and civil conversation are at least as important as anything else your institution teaches. 

I urge you to take these findings seriously, and rather than simply accept them as “normal” and what we have to live with, think how you can take steps to build more trust with people beyond your usual circle and in our culture. Distrust, bias, and lack of inclusion is a factor in the “isolation plague” that affects so many people, especially young people, today. Let’s do what we can to be change-agents on this one. 

I am eager for a discussion around this topic. Please send comments to me at  or .


© Phyllis Weiss Haserot 2019.