By Suji Hettiarachchi –
The “Diminishing trust or distrust” article was written to catch the eyes of the scholarly readers of the Colombo Telegraph. It was not an attempt at analyzing human behavior per se. The objective of the article was twofold; to initiate an open dialogue among the intellectual community who could contribute to the discussion and through that engagement to find ways to build a trusting Sri Lankan society and alleviate the distrust among people.
To understand what has happened in Sri Lanka, we do not need a scientific investigation or a different set of lens. The malignant corruption and the unethical behaviors that we all have seen through our own eyes, is enough to allow us to make our own judgments. Yes of course, everybody in Sri Lanka will run to help if there is a need to as readers of Colombo Telegraph commented. This is because helping those in need is a basic human characteristic. Nevertheless, we – humans, have manufactured the distrust through years of altering the truth. The effect of this demise has inarguably impacted the very existence of core human values which include collectivity, consensus, cooperation, open communication, accountability, transparency and obeying the rules of the law and so on. The society at large is plagued by the illness of not having the desire to know the real truth. I am not an expert in international relations or in political science (I am a Sociologist!) but I am a strong believer in reality, truth, honesty, peace and harmony, concepts that seem to be slowly approaching extinction within society today.
If you analyse what you read in the media today you can judge for yourself what diminishing trust is and how it is leading towards fear and insecurity. We all believe that we must get to the bottom of this problem of distrust. Searching for the root cause of diminishing trust, one must sail to its origin and history; however, this will never be an easy task. Therefore, even the thought will not bring about the intended purpose. As a Sri Lankan, a Buddhist and as a human being, I believe we are all part and parcel of the root cause and must share the responsibility for its invention and the blame.
Fear and Uncertainty
Let’s understand what fear and uncertainty is. We can define fear as “a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid”. Uncertainty on the other hand, is “the state of being uncertain, doubtful or hesitant”
Trust our people who placed their confidence in us
What is in rarity in today’s society is an intrinsic belief in genuine honesty, true love and kindness, true patriotism, respect and true nationalism. In his article titled “Premadasa’s development vision” Dayan Jayatilake takes us back to late President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s era, his development philosophy where I find reference to trust “ We must trust our people who have placed their confidence in us”. In today’s Sri Lankan society, the trust has disappeared! Its time to take a leaf out of such politicians of yester year! There were politicians who trusted people and people who trusted politicians. Time to take advice from such people and time to invest in altruistic individuals to help our country and build a trusting society without fear and uncertainty. To achieve these, we need to stop and re-evaluate our actions and make adjustments necessary.
Another comment from readers of Colombo Telegraph was to experiment federalism (which is not separation according to him!) as in Australia. With my little knowledge in politics, I could suggest that the federalism works in Australia, which is a large continent (with a landmass of 7.692 million km2) with enormous resources for generations to come! Sri Lanka on the other hand, with a land size of 65,610 km2, is even smaller than Tasmania (68,401km2), which is a state of Australia. Australian state and the federal governments have their own parliaments and premiers and the governance is transparent, accountable and it’s a country with a great wealth. Our little island of Sri Lanka may not be large enough to have separate states.
As per another comment – we create problems. I totally agree with this statement. The problems are everywhere not only in Sri Lanka. All problems are man-made (human-made). They did not accidentally appear in the world out of the blue. It has been the case for some years now in Sri Lanka. Nevertheless, written rules of law do exist and spoken about. Living by rule of law is our own responsibility. If you respect the rule of law and you abide by the law, it is your inner conscience that will make you a respectful, obedient and law obeying person.
Trust is to be lead with and lead by
The trust is mutual reciprocation at a higher level of acceptance. The time has come for us to lead with and lead by trust. There are 5 stages of distrust (leadingwithtrust.com)– doubt (slight uncertainty), suspicion (belief without proof), anxiety (feeling of uneasiness or apprehension), fear (afraid for your well-being) and lastly self-protection (building walls around you). Rebuilding trust will take time. Of course, Sri Lanka is not a dysfunctional state as one of the Colombo Telegraph readers had posted. Rational thinking of its citizens is in a form of fledgling state but the nation is moving forward. Rational thinking is some thing that you learn over time and the rationality in Sri Lankan thinking has dwindled in front of our own eyes. To a certain extent this may be true.
“Democratic governments by nature appear somewhat chaotic superficially because everybody is trying to make their voices heard by various means,” says another reader. I agree with the suggestion that “everybody is trying to make his or her voice heard” exactly the problem we have in Sri Lanka is just that.
In “Trust, distrust and 2 paradoxes of democracy” of European Journal of Social Theory, Piotr Sztompka explains that the measure of trust that people vest in their fellow citizens or institutions depends on reflected trustworthiness, basic truthfulness and culture of trust. The culture of trust is in reference to pervading their society and normatively encouraging the trusting orientation. The author argues that democratic organization contributes to trust-generating conditions, such as normative certainty, transparency, stability and accountability. His final argument rest on 2 paradoxes; democracy breeding the culture of trust at many levels and secondly, the institutionalized distrust remains a resource used sparingly and only when there appears significant breaches of trust.
If you watch live streaming of the Sri Lankan parliamentary sessions, you will see just that. I often watch these on you tube. OMG! On the side of the stream runs the people’s commentaries that makes me wonder who these people are and how easy to cyber kill a person. It’s that easy! Though some of their comments and concerns are real. I too agree with readers of Colombo Telegraph. Sri Lanka that I lived was not chaotic and superficial like today. It was more calmed, respectful, law-obedient and well acknowledged around the world.
Fake or distorted News creating distrust
An item becomes a news whether it is fake or distorted or not the truth but nothing but the truth. There is a plethora of news not newsworthy but still go pass the radar of people’s choice to see, hear or listen. People enjoy it, react to it, respond to it and sometimes make fun of it. If you read the comments on any news item you will understand what this means. You can do a scientific analysis of human behaviors, mind-sets, mentalities, thinking patterns etc. It will be a golden platform for the psychologists, psychiatrists and mental health professionals.
The world has been invaded by fake news that I called distorted news. It’s creating a mentally dysfunctional society whether we accept or not. Eight billion on earth now – watching or reading news that is untrue with endless viewpoints and opinions, where would the society be in another 10 or 20 years. Therefore the time is now for all who spread the distorted news to stop doing so.
Can we rebuild the trust?
How do you rebuild the trust? Forgive or be forgiven, be open to other viewpoints, friendly and positive dialogue, build a bridge, be honest, learn to apologize, use the universal principle of loving and kindness. None of these are apparent and visible in the thinking of Sri Lankan mentality.
Creating news that is untrue will make a messy society with no stepping back to correct them. We read and watch news all day every day thinking this may be true. These hypotheticals will not help the society or the people.
At the moment Sri Lanka is like a Pandora’s box. No one will ever know the truth Are we continue to follow the same path? It is high time that we all re-invent ourselves. The only solution to diminished trust and distrust is working together for a common goal with conscience. Unless we realize that we cannot be the receivers always so at some point we must give some, we must forgive and try to forget whatever the misdeed we had done. This requires unprejudiced minds with broader knowledge and ability to be genuinely interested in nation building, attitude changing, gentle and honest politicians and civil servants to take the country forward.
Prejudice is a curse in our country. Dividing on the lines of race and ethnicity, religion and belief systems etc. is not the right way. It is time to go on reverse gear and ask ourselves – what do we all need to do for our country today? When you speak with any Sri Lankan today may it be expatriate or not, they are all fearful and uncertain of Sri Lanka’s future. We all pray and hope. Not having a strong untarnished leadership and seeing passive and diminished interest from our youth to be future leaders leave us in a vacuum. Where is our second-tier leadership? Why are these young, vibrant are not bothered about coming forward to voice their interest in leadership? Will we ever see young honest leaders of our future?
Social Glue and Humble Trust
Trust is commonly described using the metaphor of invisible “social glue” and absence of the glue of trust is distrust says Jason D’Cruz in “Humble trust” (Philosophical Studies 2019 176:933-953). Distrust that is based in real fear yet fails to target ill will, lack of integrity or incompetence. He explains suites of behaviors characteristic of trust and distrust. Trust brings with it the engagement and feeling of security and confidence where as distrust we avoid or withdraw interaction. When we distrust we avoid reliance, interaction and vulnerability. He concludes, “that “sometimes the thing we must trust others to do is trust us. We must trust that our actions and words will be interpreted favorably in the face of uncertainty…this trust does not come automatically, the perception of hasty or unwarranted distrust undermines the conditions that make such trust possible, thereby undermining trustworthiness itself. This is the predicament that calls for humble trust”
The above fear bound uncertainties emanating from diminishing trust and distrust will ultimately find it’s natural death. How we deal with it and who will come forward are the questions we face today.