Choosing Trust and Cooperation

December 3, 2021

By Jim Thornton, GMA President

Establishing trust is hard work, but it is critical to everything we do as leaders in our cities.

Local elected leaders know how important it is to build trust. During our campaign for office, we ask our neighbors to trust us with power. During our time in office, we ask them to trust us as we make decisions for their benefit. Trust is vital throughout the community.

I recently came across an opinion survey published by the Pew Research Center on “Trust and Distrust in America.”

Numerous studies have found that large majorities of Americans don’t trust their government. Unfortunately, that is not news; it is merely confirmation of what we all know.

The Pew survey focused on the federal government and found that 75% of Americans lacked trust in government. Local governments often fare better by comparison, but the overall trend for years has been declining levels of trust in government.

What really disturbed me in that report, however, was the finding that 64% of Americans reported declining trust in each other. That finding means nearly two out of three Americans lacks trust in their neighbors. That’s untenable, especially for those of us on the local level working to build communities.

Not surprisingly, 70% of those surveyed reported that the declining levels of trust, especially in each other, made solving community problems harder.

The encouraging aspect of this research was the finding that 86% of those surveyed believed that trust could be improved and things could get better.

 Those surveyed suggested a variety of solutions, including increasing government transparency, improving community cooperation and performing individual acts of kindness. Those are all solutions easier to implement at the local level.

While I am encouraged at the faith Americans have in the possibility of improving levels of trust, I also recognize that doing so will require hard work. It will require our local city leaders to work harder. It will require us to get to know our neighbors and, perhaps, even those we think we don’t like. It will require us to engage each other in more meaningful ways. It will require us to find partners in the community.

There is also a leap of faith required. Sometimes, we have to choose to trust each other before that trust is truly established.

As city leaders, we have an obligation to lead and to improve the conditions of our cities, and that includes enhancing the levels of trust among our city’s residents.

If we choose to trust each other and, by doing so, get to know each other better, I believe we will find more commonality than division. We can work together to solve our communities’ issues rather than assigning blame.

When we choose to work together, we get to know each other, we establish trust and we become friends.

It’s hard work, and it’s not without risk, but it’s important work. It’s what makes our local communities thrive, and that’s what led us into public service in the beginning. 

This article was originally featured in the November/December 2021 edition of Georgia’s Cities Magazine.

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