The Leap: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: September 11th, 2014 by bobmorris

LeapThe Leap: The Science of Trust and Why It Matters
Ulrich Boser
New Harvest/Amazon & Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2014)

“It is impossible to go through life without trust: that is to be imprisoned in the worst cell of all, oneself.”
Graham Greene

In the Introduction, Ulrich Boser cites a well-publicized, tragic incident that occurred many years ago (October 1972) when a rugby team’s charter flight crashed in the Andes. Of the 45 aboard (including five crew), only 16 survived. One of them, Nando Parrado, later wrote a book, Miracle in the Andres, and observes, “None of us were saints. We survived not because we were perfect, but because the accumulated weight of concern for each other far outweighed our natural self-interest.” The implications of that traumatic group experience suggest that almost anyone can be trusting even in life-and-death situations when the survival instinct is usually strongest.

As I began to read this book, I was again reminded of how diminished my own capacity for trust has become over the years and I think this is also true of many others. Although I live in a “very nice” residential neighborhood, I always keep the front and back doors locked. I never leave the garage door up after leaving or returning home. I no longer stop to provide help to other motorists. Even when I “pop in and out” of a store such as a dry cleaners, I lock the car. According to Boser’s research, the most trusting states include Iowa, Maine, Nebraska, New Hampshire, and Utah whereas the least trusting states include Alabama, Mississippi, Nevada, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Boser also discusses widespread distrust in government at national, state, and local levels. Boser provides a “Tool Kit for Policymakers” (Pages 139-140) on how to earn wider and deeper trust between and among those such as I who regret “sagging social capital.”

It seems to me that to a much greater extent than ever before, many people are demonstrating what I characterize as the “Barbarian Syndrome.” The term “barbarian” was coined in ancient Greece and its original meaning was “non-Greek.” Today, in almost every dimension of contemporary life, people distrust others only because they non- [fill in the blank]. It could be white or black, Republican or Democrat, you get the idea.

These are among the challenges that Boser discusses with rigor and sensitivity:

o How to trust
o How to be/become worthy of trust
o Why trust
o How to determine another’s trustworthiness
o How and why to trust those deemed by others to be unworthy of trust (e.g. IRS agents)
o How to leverage technology to improve communication with others
o When and when NOT to make a “leap of faith”…also why

I am convinced that the burden of proof is on those who would be trusted. That is, they must earn trust and once they have, that trust must never be betrayed. This is precisely what Ulrich Boser has in mind when concluding his thoughtful book: “When it comes to our faith in others, trustworthiness is the difference between trusting well and trusting poorly. And we need to do more to build this sort of trustworthiness — and this sort of trust. That means stronger communities. That means a deeper social fabric. That means understanding that trust is ultimately a risk — one that might not always pay off. But above all, it’s time to leap.”

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