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Why We Trust Strangers More than Our Friends
Guest articles > Why We Trust Strangers More than Our Friends
by: Lisa Earle McLeod
Humans are trusting creatures, sort of.
In the collective sense, our society runs on trust.
I'm often stunned by how often we place our very lives in the hands of
Whenever I see a jogger blithely running along side the road with their
earbuds in as the cars whiz by, I want to pull off the road and say, "Do you
even realize what you're doing? You are trusting me, distracted, overly-tired
me, with your life. You don't even know me, yet you're counting on me to stay in
my lane and pay attention. Do you realize that you are just one distracted cell
phone conversation away from certain death?"
Of course, I'm driving amongst hundreds of forty-ton trucks that could just
as easily crush my small vehicle. The very act of driving is an act of trust. We
trust that the other drivers understand the rules of the road, and will follow
them. We trust them not to be drunk or wigged out on drugs. We trust them to
stop at red lights, stay on the right side of the road, and not make U-turns on
the interstate. When someone violates the collective trust, we're stunned. Yet
we get right back into our cars, and trust again.
Our lives hinge on trust. We trust airlines to train their pilots. We trust
grocery stores to inspect their food. We trust cities to inspect their bridges.
One might argue that it's forced trust because we have laws, and pay people
to enforce them. But there aren't enough police officers and elevator inspectors
in the world to monitor every situation. A functioning society depends on trust.
My daughter Elizabeth McLeod says, "It's calculated risk because you don't
really have any other options. The other person might not obey the rules of the
road, but I have to get to work, so I'm willing to take the risk."
99.9% of the time it works.
We get on the plane, eat the food, and step out onto the bridge without even
thinking about it. If we paused to consider how many times we place our lives in
the hands of strangers, we would go mad.
Elizabeth, a college student who is clearly more insightful than I was at 21,
says, "It's easier to look at a statistic like one in seventy-five drivers is
drunk and trust the odds, than it is to look at another person and say, I trust
you with my life."
We trust strangers with our lives every single day. Yet why, in a society
that functions on trust, are we so often mistrustful of the people that we
We second-guess our colleagues' motives. We wonder if our kid's teacher
really cares. We're quick to assume malice, or at the very least selfishness,
when our spouse forgets to do something.
We'll trust an unknown airline pilot to keep us safe at 30,000 feet, but
heaven forbid we give our partner or neighbor the benefit of the doubt when
they're having a bad day.
Yet what would happen if we started trusting individuals the same way we
trust strangers? What if we assumed that people are going to do the right thing?
We might get burned 1% of the time, but think about how much time you would
save. And how great it would be to live in a world were people automatically
We humans have cast our lot together. Trusting each other is the only way we're going to get anything done.