Published on: April 26, 2012
This commentary is available as text or video. Enjoy both, or either.
Hi, this is FaceTime with the Content Guy. I’m Kevin Coupe.
The question of the day: Who or what do you trust?
The answer, increasingly, seems to be very few and very little.
People don’t seem to have much faith in government anymore. There is not much confidence in the White House and a lot less in Congress. In part this is the arguing that seems to take place back and forth, inhibiting or downright preventing compromise and productivity. in part, a lot of people cannot get out of their minds images of people on rooftops being abandoned by the government they thought would save them during Hurricane Katrina. I actually think lack of faith in government goes back to the Nixon White House and the Watergate scandal. We thought we could trust them, but we couldn’t.
People have less faith in organized religion than ever. Some of this has to do with secularization of society, but I think a lot more blame can be laid at the feet of the pastors who lined their own pockets at the expense of their flocks, and the clergymen who exploited young people for their own carnal pleasures. We thought we could trust them, but we couldn’t.
Big business? Give me break. Enron taught us that major corporations could not be trusted, and Bernie Madoff cemented the lesson. The financial services industry has done nothing to convince anyone that they are to be trusted, as they created exploitive mechanisms that seemed designed to help their own bottom lines with no thought of what it would do to their customers. It won;t surprise anyone if things get worse on this front; I’m reminded of the lines from “The Merchant of Venice.” The villainy you teach me I shall execute, and it shall go hard, but I will better the instruction.
Just this week, we found out that Walmart - which likes to paint itself in God-bless-America red, white and blue, and where certain executives can be holier than thou - may be guilty of systemic bribery as it worked to grow its Mexican business, and guilty of covering it up when internal investigations revealed the extent of the problem. We thought we could trust them, but we couldn’t.
Unions? Well, it often looks like they are out of touch with the current economic climate, with leadership that is more interested in wielding power than helping businesses and membership find profitable and sustainable models that will serve both sides.
The Secret Service? Need I say more?
The food business? You don’t think that issues like pink slime or contaminated peanuts or other food safety problems have hurt its image?
The media? Hate to say it, because I’m a member, but mass media outlets - from networks to newspapers to magazines - often in lowest common denominator one-upmanship, if such a thing is possible. We thought we could trust them, but we couldn’t.
Sports? Well, the biggest stars sometimes are found to be using steroids to enhance their play. Entertainment? Do we have to detail the cases of alcohol and drug abuse that derail the careers of talented people, or the ways in which the industry seems to embrace the notion of spending the most money on the least innovative ideas?
We thought we could trust them, but we couldn’t.
So, what’s got me in this dour mood?
There is a fascinating and incredibly sobering piece in the current National Journal entitled “In Nothing We Trust,” that details in both micro and macro terms the extent of the problem.
You can read the complete piece here.
“With few notable exceptions,” the story suggests, “the nation’s onetime social pillars are ill-equipped for the 21st century. Most critically, they are failing to adapt quickly enough for a population buffeted by wrenching economic, technological, and demographic change.”
I think that’s true.
I think the people who talk about so-called “American exceptionalism” have no idea what they’re talking about.
Trust is earned, as is the notion that we as a people, as a country and a set of institutions are exceptional.
This includes the retail business.
Retailers, because they represent the idealized notion and, sometimes, the ghost of Main Street USA, need to may close attention to the concept of trust.
I suspect it is no longer there to be lost. Too many things have happened at all levels of the culture to assure that, and I have a suspicion that the next generation of consumers and citizens may be the least trusting in our history.
Why should they trust anyone? Or anything?
That said, trust can be gained. Through honest, transparent dealings with our customers, our employees and our business partners.
But I fear it is an uphill battle these days. Much damage has been done, and it seems like a pretty good bet that headlines in coming days will only make things worse.
But it can be done. There are no shortcuts to be taken, no magic pills to revive people’s sense of trust. It has to be real. As George Washington Carver once said, “Veneer isn’t worth anything.”
We need people to say the following:
“We wanted to trust them, and we could.”
That’ll be the beginning.
That’s what is on my mind this Thursday morning, and as always, I want to hear what is on your mind.
FYI...You can see all of the FaceTime video commentaries done by Kevin Coupe on the MorningNewsBeat Channel on YouTube, by clicking here.
- KC's View: