Frustration Friday: The Thing We Lost

Yes, I know the Great Recession has caused many, many losses.  If I wasn't a news fanatic I wouldn't be able to avoid the stories anyway – and as it is, I seek them out.

Everyone talks about the loss of money.  X billion dollars vanished. 

Everyone talks about the loss of jobs.  This country has Y percent unemployment.

Everyone talks about the loss of national prominence.  The whole world is going through a self-esteem crisis apparently.

What no one is talking about is that among all this there's been a huge loss of something else, a resource that can be made and destroyed – and once destroyed is hard to remake.

That resource is TRUST.  The pundits and economists don't talk about this nearly enough.

There is a loss of trust among countries.  Fingers get pointed at failures, those who engage in financial acrobatics to save the day are rarely thanked (probably as the acrobatics are reminders of how they messed up).  How do you trust Greece again when its horrid finances have come out?  How do people trust America after the shenanigans of Banks based here?  There's mistrust between countries out there.

There is a loss of trust in Governments.  "Where are the regulators?" people ask – even people who originally wanted less regulation.  "Why didn't this government program help me?" ask those in financial trouble, wondering just what the people in government are thinking.  "Why did my government make stupid investments" ask people looking at drained retirement funds and damaged sovereign wealth funds.  Among the blame about regulation and the anger at the government not helping some people, politicians are glad to sail in and exploit the situation – further increasing mistrust of government as demagogues and sensationalists take their place.

There is of course an incredible loss of trust in Banks.  Banks' reputations have taken a huge hit, as has, obviously, the reputation of those working there.  These damaged reputations, perhaps often earned due to financial skullduggery, will not be easily repaired.  Repairing them will require years of work – and perhaps new regulation and many changes we may not see.

There is a loss of trust in businesses small and large.  People who have been laid off in this downturn aren't going to be feeling overly loyal to past and future employers, having lost jobs, money, and face.  People facing pay cuts and benefit reductions aren't going to be loyal to current employers.  Companies and Banks that have had huge bonuses paid to those still there and those who haven't faced cuts only increases the bitterness of people.  No matter the reasons behind layoffs and cuts, in these tough times, people are going to be very bitter.

Finally, there is the loss of trust among people themselves.  It is in tough times we learn what people are capable of – but also where they failed in preparing for problems or failed in coping with them.  Trust is lost when a child has to move in with their parents at 30 – even when it is understandable – as family or friends may think ill of them.  Trust is lost when a person can''t find a job for an extended time because – even when justified – people assume the worst of that person.  Trust is lost when a seemingly competent friend or family member is revealed to have made bad investments or not prepared for the challenges in life.

The latter is perhaps the saddest and most destructive of all the losses of trust.  It is in tough times we find out what we are capable of – but also we find our flaws.  Tough times are when we can face stress, but it can also warp our perspectives.  When you're dealing with  the Great Recession, you're probably a bit more intolerant and judgmental unless you are self-aware enough to catch it.

So that's what we've lost in this downturn: trust.

The loss of trust keeps us from cooperating.  It keeps us from lending money.  It keeps us from lending a helping hand when we assume the other is incompetent.  It keeps us on edge, paranoid, and mistrustful.

So, how trusting are you now in the Great Recession?  Honestly?

How will you get that back?

– Steven Savage