Navigating in crisis relies on broad trust

Chris Skellett explores the role of trust as we battle the Covid-19 outbreak.

Trust. It’s such a small, familiar word, but in times of tension or crisis, it suddenly becomes a hugely significant issue. Trust is like oxygen. Barely noticed when it’s not needed, but desperately valued when it is.

Collectively, we do not understand trust very well. We rely on gut feelings and intuition. But now, more than ever, we are obliged to manage trust more effectively than perhaps we ever have before.

The current global pandemic requires us to trust across three domains. We have to trust government agencies and health services to put good strategies in place for us. We also have to trust each other to behave responsibly. And finally, we have to trust ourselves to manage risk and keep ourselves safe in very ambiguous circumstances. Managing trust in ourselves, in each other, and in the world around us becomes a key issue for us all during lockdown. For clarity, the rest of this article will be broken down into three separate headings:

Trust in Self

Basically, we must all trust ourselves to manage risk appropriately. This is the core skill that we all need to develop. We must take adequate precautions to protect ourselves.

Some of us tend to trust too much, while others don’t trust enough. We all have different set points for trust, for example when deciding whether to install fire alarms or whether to use gloves when gardening. But now, we must all follow a common path.

We have been given clear guidelines to follow to avoid infection, and now is not a time to celebrate our tendencies to bend the rules. This is no time to be an outlier. In terms of hygiene rituals, always err on the side of caution. If in doubt, then always choose personal safety over taking a chance.

We must also trust ourselves to manage our emotions in these uncertain times. To stay calm, optimistic and self-affirming. We can’t control much of what is happening, but we can control our responses.

Many, many people will have suddenly lost their jobs, their financial nest eggs or businesses that they have built up over years. It is easy to feel helpless and overwhelmed but instead, this now becomes a time to take stock and review. We are obliged to refresh and refocus, and to prepare to make good use of the opportunities that will inevitably occur when the rebuild begins.

Within our bubble, we must stay true to our core values and be kind, respectful and understanding of the distress of others.

This not a time for anger and despair. You let yourself and your loved ones down every time that you allow this to happen. Trust yourself to be the very best that you can be. Trust yourself to stand tall. Because you can.

Trust in Others

We are now obliged to trust others to behave responsibly. To maintain good hygiene habits and to maintain good boundaries around personal space. We trust them to maintain the integrity of their nominated intimate bubbles. This is absolutely crucial, and is the key strategy that will help us beat this disease. We trust service workers to maintain supply chains and essential services, and we trust politicians and leaders to make the best decisions that they can for us. We trust everyone to play their part in moving us towards a successful resolution of this difficult situation.

Trusting others is always the most ambiguous of the three domains. There are so many competing factors that influence another person’s behaviour. They may distort the truth or omit to report the breach of a boundary, but as far as possible, we are currently obliged to trust each other to do the best that we can.

There is always a small element in society who flout the rules for personal gain. They will still secretly drive to the beach, or they will claim for handouts that they don’t require. But we are all in this together.

We must all work together to build a social climate of trust. The alternative, to assume mistrust in each other, is to live in a world of suspicion and fear. Betraying the trust of others is a foolish game. You are simply building a world of suspicion and deceit for yourself.

Trust in the world around us

Usually, we assume that the physical world is benign. We can move through it safely. Occasional misfortune will arise, but generally we can assume trust. But now, the goalposts have shifted dramatically. The rules have suddenly swung through 180 degrees. We can no longer assume that the physical world is safe. It is potentially life threatening. Our starting point now is to assume that the world is unsafe.

With this in mind we must shift our trust set points from casual indifference to high alert, especially around hygiene. Our previously complacent self-talk needs to be challenged. Using the attached trust audit, we can review our self-talk and perhaps re-calibrate our trust attitude to any aspect of the world around us, in particular Covid-19.

The trust audit allows us to objectively review our self-talk around trust and perhaps to make changes. By adopting realistic appraisals of the risks posed by the world around us, we stay safe.

As well as the physical world, we also find ourselves needing to trust the systemic world around us of government agencies, essential services, supply chains, politicians and the police. Usually we maintain a healthy scepticism about such things, especially the latter two groups, but now is not the time to be suspicious of motives or to look for hidden agendas.

We must assume trust in these organisations to act in our collective best interests, and also to trust the media to report the situation in a balanced, responsible way. This is not a time for scaremongering or to abuse the people’s trust. We should also be reading online news feeds with an appropriate degree of caution, always looking for the trustworthiness of the source.

Trust is reciprocal. It is an assumption of mutual goodwill. When we live in a community that assumes mutual trust, it is a wonderful experience. It is the essence of high performing teams, of exhilarating workplaces, and of loving relationships. Assuming trust also provides us with the platform for a resilient collective response to a community crisis.

We should all notice, celebrate and champion trust during these difficult times. We should look to become Trust Ambassadors, and to take every opportunity to "trade" mindfully in a world based on trust. Not risking more than we dare, but looking for every opportunity to build and strengthen trust both in others and also in ourselves.

By realistically managing trust in our lives, we will stay connected to solid ground. We will get through this together.

  • Chris Skellett is a retired clinical psychologist and the author of When Trust Goes Missing — A Clinical Guide 2019.


"Trust is reciprocal" the author writes. Yes, it is. But trust comes from honesty, openness and accountability, and currently the government, police and media are acting with little of these.

Furthermore, it is quite clear that none of the above trust the general public, hence the mixed messages and illogical rules that, apparently, unlike in a democracy, must never be questioned.

So why would any sensible person trust any of you?

Benjamin Franklin famously said, "Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

New Zealand has turned overnight into a police state. God help us if we cannot turn it back.

You think someone should trust the general public? One only has to look at the panic buying of toilet paper to see that the general public lacks both the courage and the intelligence to be trusted.
If we were actually in a Police State people would not be able to make comments that criticize the government, and have them published.
Please remember, selfishness, paranoia, cowardice, and dishonesty are not virtues, If we want help from any self respecting "God" we need to up our game.
Finally, if people were smarter and more community minded, the government wouldn't need to introduce these laws, they are only required because of the rarity of "Common Sense" in the modern world.

JWinter you sum up perfectly my thoughts and observations. Excellently written comment!

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