A major study just released showed that North Americans are in increasingly distrustful of charities. The survey asked our degree of trust for different types of charities, from hospital charities to environmental to international development. While hospital fared best, the result showed that we are sceptical of all charities use of money, reasons for fund raising and ability to deliver their mandate with the money raised.
This is part of a very important larger trend. We are mistrustful of everyone – politicians, business leaders, environmentalists, journalists, and now charities. Have we become a culture of cynics, unable to trust the intention and competence of anyone?
I think the answer to that is a qualified no. Despite this growing trend to mistrust anyone in positions of authority, I don’t think this is a reflection of increased cynicism. I actually think it is much worse.
I think the average person does not understand how complex certain jobs are, and, as a result, they are holding people in those positions to impossible standards. Politics, business, any positions of management within charities are incredibly complex jobs requiring a constant exercise of subjective judgment and trade offs; moreover, they are accountable for the actions of 100s or 1000s of people and they have a huge number of complex competing time priorities. In all of these jobs, people make lots of mistakes and make decisions that are to the advantage of some and the detriment of others. It is the nature of these jobs. Yet in an age of 24 hour social and traditional media, every mistake will be placed under a microscope and every good decision will be quickly passed over, as these are not worthy of attention. Individuals in these positions are no more corrupt or incompetent than they used to be, they are simply under a finer microscope.
Compare this to a plumber, a shop clerk or even a fireman. In these jobs, decisions are pretty straight forward. Sure, these folks work hard and they deserve respect for that. But they are rarely faced with grey ethical decisions and there is sufficient tax repetition that they truly become flawless masters of the limited range of tasks and decisions required of them.
As a society, we will pay a powerful price if we tear down anyone aspiring to positions of influence or power. We do not benefit from politicians and business people who fear risks and mistakes. But these are the signals we are sending them.
Never before have we had so much ability to hold people so accountable. With this new ability, we need to grow up, as critics, and accept the inherent imperfections in those in holding those jobs. We would all make mistakes in these complex positions. And we have to accept that we are not always able to judge their situate — it is more complex than our. Most importantly, we need to cut them a little slack.