Relational Trust

In 2008, I experienced an unusual privilege and opportunity on the international scene. I was nominated by USNORTHCOM, NORAD, and HOMELAND SECURTIY, and selected by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) to travel to the Koffi Anan International Peacekeeping and Training Center in Accra, Ghana. “Your selection is reflective of your dedication to global humanitarian programs and your specific expertise, as recognized by your peers internationally.” I was to represent the U.S., in conjunction with other international organizations, on a select five-member international panel commissioned to meet for two weeks in Ghana to begin establishing protocol and structures that would assist world nations and African partners in achieving a more stable environment through security cooperation, information sharing, and information management. 

Our venue at the Peace Center was set up with two moderators at the front and the five panel members seated at individual desks forming a semi-circle facing themoderators. At desks behind the panel members were about twenty advisors who served as subject matter experts from around Africa and the world at large. Behind the advisors were many observers who had been invited to be part of the meetings.

Our task was to develop a multi-stage, comprehensive model that encompassed pre crisis; event; crisis declaration; response; and immediate, mid-term, and long-term response. Incorporated into each of the stages were to be addressed the seven forms of capital: human, social, natural, built, political, cultural, and financial, and their influences on the crisis situation.

Having worked with various groups before, I was fully expecting the normal process that takes place with every group as it comes together and works toward some kind of productivity:

          · Groping—“Why are we here . . . really?” 
          · Griping—“Where’s my coffee? The computer on my desk is not working.” 
          · Grasping—“I’m beginning to understand the expectations. This is going to be good” 
          · Grouping—“I’m sensing a melding, bonding, and solidifying.” 
          · Group action—“This is what we are going to do.” 

But, this situation took me a little by surprise. Before we had much of a chance to move forward and accomplish anything, we hit a road bump . . . trust.

It was established that the model would place significant importance on information sharing (IS) and information management (IM) regarding cultural conflicts as well as pandemic disease outbreaks, epidemics, and health crises. An expectation was suggested that it was more important to share information than it was to protect it. That’s when the gloves came off. A number of the advisors, and even the observersfrom the African nations, weighed in on the discussion citing example after example where they had been deprived of the power of information in the past. A few even went back to colonial history, where “The colonial institutions had no interest or desire in fostering trust in the native populations, and misinformation was a frequent weapon used to keep the population in check.”

Another huge problem regarding trust dealt with the issue of corruption in certain areas throughout Africa. It was felt that the high levels of corruption reduced the types and amounts of information that could be shared (IS), and those conflicts often created crises themselves between the private and public sectors.

The moderators did a fine job of recognizing and discussing the issue of trust and getting us back on track. But, throughout the two weeks, the idea of trust kept sneaking its way back into the panel’s assignment. In the months since the meetings I attended at the Koffi Anan Peacekeeping Center, I have mulled around in my mind the idea of trust.

Steven Covey says that “Trust is the glue of life. It's the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It's the foundational principle that holds all relationships.” And even Abraham Lincoln said, “If you once forfeit the confidence of your fellow citizens, you can never regain their respect and esteem.”

Trust seems to be the reliance on the integrity of something to be true and sure. It becomes a confidence and assurance in the credence of a person or a situation. There also seems to be an element of risk or vulnerability that goes with the act of trusting, because the result of your trusting is out of your control. It is possible that you could be wrong. In a sense, we are paying the highest tribute to a person when we trust him or her to do right. In that regard, it may be an even higher compliment to be trusted than loved. So, trusting is difficult enough, but knowing whom to trust seems even harder. The sad thing is that trust takes years to build and seconds to shatter. Ernest Hemingway tried to keep it pretty simple by concluding, “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”

I can’t imagine that love could even exist at all without the element of trust. I agree that you run the risk of being deceived if you decide to trust too much. But, I believe you will probably live in torment if you don’t trust enough. Rick Warren, in his bookThe Purpose Driven Life, holds out the hope that a break in trust can be repaired: “Forgiveness must be immediate, whether or not a person asks for it. Trust must be rebuilt over time. Trust requires a track record.” It sounds to me that trusting in the restoration and healing of a broken trust would take another occurrence of trust itself!

Maybe it just works that way. 

The panel, the advisers, and the observers finished the assignment given to us for the two weeks of meetings in Accra, Ghana, and the results were presented to the United Nations, the U.S. Pentagon, the World Health Organization, and other involved groups. I learned a lot about crisis management, possible pandemic outbreaks and epidemics, and global information management. But I also discovered a treasure trove of insights regarding the subject of trust. Perhaps, we should have just spent our time on the subject of Trust Management (TM).