Trust – A concept for the future

trust.jpgIn the last article we will deal with actual application of trust. The conclusion I want to put in this last article on trust is that it is dangerous to underestimate personal relationships on every level of society. Part III of the Series – By Christian Miess

As we found out in the last articles, trust is a very specific item. It consists of many factors like capability or experience. Thus it shifts between control and nescience among other things. We also learned that trust manifests in language and behavior and that it can improve cooperative action. Hence it is confidence in the functioning of the administrative machinery that keeps society going. Although nothing explicitly said about how everything is connected, these both elements, trust and confidence, seem to be extremely important to achieve cooperation. Nevertheless the distinction has to remain in order to come to a clear analysis, but assuming that we can argue that today’s problems of conflict and cooperation can be dealt with applying certain trust and confidence building measures.

Trust and confidence building measures

Problems of today are often referred to as a lack of confidence, rather than a lack of trust. To face these problems confidence-building measures (CBM) seem to be one part of the solution. For example, confidence is a key factor when we talk about the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Especially in the field of disarmament, actual CBM became in fact very precise. In this case, characteristics for those measures are openness, transparency and mutual control mechanisms.

In contrast to that so-called trust building measures are short-term contacts where it is possible to see immediate success. So, the time frame in contrast to long-standing transparency and mutual control mechanisms seems different. Nevertheless in a paper issued by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) we find the elaboration of a survey that brings trust and confidence building measures together. It states that trust is directly connected with CBM and connects the style of work of every individual member of a certain institution with the building of trust, by supporting a bigger idea. The characteristics here are impartiality, legality or integrity, just to mention few.

Interestingly enough those come close to the characteristics of CBM. This certainly indicates that on a certain level CBM and trust building measures are two sides of the same story, where one goes hardly without the other.

Further research

In fact, research in this field is no waste of time. On the contrary, the intensive use of the term trust and its derivations makes it even more necessary to come to an integrative definition. In the last article we already saw how interdisciplinary work has absolutely fruitful outcomes. From political point of view, further research especially on the communal level could also be a very interesting field of research because of the unique connection of institution and individual and to find out more about the grassroots of democracy.

Also in the United States, research on trust becomes more and more popular. In particular the approach of dividing trust into calculus-based and identification-based trust seems very interesting. These levels describe different stages of relationships where identification-based trust is regarded as the highest form of trust, which is “based on a sense of shared goals and values.”[1] This could be the interlinking part, which closes the theoretical gap between trust and confidence.

Retrospective and Outlook

Right now, we are witnessing an increasing need for trust. We see that money, power, and knowledge are not sufficient to achieve cooperation of different culture groups and the tendency that we have to interact with more and more people in the future is just a logical step if we presuppose a division of labor. All this indicates that an advanced form of cooperation based on trust is needed to cope with today’s problems of conflicts and globalization. One could say that this presupposition is also a problem, because we depend on each other too much. On the other hand, cooperation and eventually trust is only possible if people interact over a longer period of time. Therefore, the division of labor can also be the basis for trust, because it leads to constant cooperation and eventually to strong interlinking between individuals.

The problems of trust often manifest in an uncertainty of responsible behavior. These uncertainties can then lead to less trust and a lesser probability of cooperation in the end. What we need for that is responsible behavior in every respect. There lies the big task for the generations to come. Maybe that’s also what Kofi Annan meant when he spoke of the lessons he learned during his term as Secretary-General of the United Nations.

images.jpgWe also see why the terms trust and confidence are used almost synonymous though they do not refer to the same concepts. So it is no wonder why it becomes mixed up within the current debate. There are, of course, significant similarities between trust and confidence-building measures, but the theoretical gab between trust and confidence has to remain, otherwise the term would become irrelevant. To answer one of the questions mentioned in the first article in how far we can be sure that no one abuses trust, we just can say that we cannot. Classic control mechanisms regarding trust only step into effect after trust has been abused. You can, for example, remember when trust has been abused and you will never trust that specific person ever again. Societal institutions can limit the unsocial behavior of individuals in advance by constrains but also by providing a certain identity that makes the behavior of individuals predictable. But even though a lot of societal security mechanisms exist in form of various institutions that control the abuse of trust, individual trust makes the difference.

What we can conclude at the end of the series is that the individual still matters. Abstract phenomena and ideas only exist, if people stand up to them and minimize the risks of everyday cooperation by responsible actions. Therefore, we also need to question our own perception of others and we have to get to understand the impacts of our behavior in context of the perception by others. This would be the most effective trust building measure.

Read also part I and part II of the series, here on /

The pictures are public domain


[1] Lewicki, Roy J. and Edward C. Tomlinson. „Trust and Trust Building.“ Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: December 2003 „“


Confidence Building Measures (CBM) and Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)

CBM and disarmament

Building Public Trust (paper issued by the OECD)

Speech of Kofi Annan

Recommended for further research:

Luhmann, Niklas: Vertrauen: Ein Mechanismus zur Reduktion sozialer Komplexität, 4. Auflage, Stuttgart: Lucius und Lucius 2000 (not translated into English, yet)

Warren, Mark E. (ed.): Democracy and Trust, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1999

Oscar W. Gabriel and Sonja Zmerli: Politisches Vertrauen, Deutschland in Europa, in: Federal Agency for Civic Education

Schreibe einen Kommentar

Deine E-Mail-Adresse wird nicht veröffentlicht. Erforderliche Felder sind mit * markiert.