Trust vs. Mistrust

Psychological theories come and go. Sometimes, bogus ideas take hold and do damage as they embed themselves in society, while authentic ideas can lose popularity as they are not cutting-edge and exciting. I do not know if Erik Erikson’s stages of psycho-social development are in vogue now, but his views were what I remember from my college freshman year ‘intro to psychology’ course.

I revisited Dr. Erikson’s stages of development after hearing an Israeli thought-leader speak about the dangers facing his country. He noted that the main danger was one that was affecting countries around the globe. In shorthand, there is a growing lack of trust among people who share nationhood. Rather than feeling an overarching common cause, burgeoning splinter groups distrust and dislike many of those with whom they live.

In Dr. Erikson’s model, the first, vital stage of development from birth to 18 months, is trust vs. mistrust. If our infant needs are not met, if there is no principal, steady presence in our life responding to our cries and delivering food, care, and cuddles, we can be locked into mistrust and handicapped in moving onto successive stages of healthy growth.

As we mature, we certainly face breaches of trust. Whether it is our third-grade friend who sits with someone else at lunchtime, a spouse who betrays marriage vows, or a partner who is dishonest with corporate funds, we are all blindsided at some point (probably many points) by a betrayal of lesser or greater import. Yet, if we have developed a solid core of trust, we can cope with setbacks.

Israel, the United States, and most developed countries around the world are well past infancy. Increasingly, citizens in many nations justifiably suspect that their governing bodies are engaged in duplicitous double standards. Justice is looking more like favoritism and vengeance than like a legitimate exercise of authority. News organizations are spouting propaganda more than information. Where once goodwill towards the government and towards fellow citizens who thought differently from us was the norm, hostility now reigns.

As individuals, we can reach out to neighbors and attempt to make broad connections. Until proven wrong, we can cast a sympathetic eye on others. But just as the infant cannot supply his own needs, individual citizens cannot move forward if they believe that their government is egregiously betraying them. Well-developed nations seem to be back in infancy. If we do not build anew and establish a core of mutual trust, those who are cavorting in control may find themselves reciting the poet Shelley’s words:

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

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