A prominent theme of this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos was the need to restore trust, which was deemed essential for addressing issues related to economic growth, employment and climate change says William D King. Trust is crucial because it underpins well-functioning societies, which are essential for achieving long-term sustainability. Not only that, but if we want people to take steps that will benefit them in the longer term – whether through individual actions or collective ones – then they have to believe that society will be better off as a result.
Here is how we can be Optimistic about the Future:
- There are many reasons why trust has declined recently. One important reason is technological change, including the speed with which news travels now compared with even just two decades ago. Another is raising inequality, especially where there are large gaps between rich and poor. People are warier about whether they will be the ones to benefit from future growth, even if there is evidence that they can borrow to finance their futures (or at least avoid borrowing too much).
- And then there is what you might call the “obesity paradox”, since obesity is both an indication of trust in science and technology, who have developed food products that make us obese but also keep us alive; and of the personal responsibility we assign for our health (fat people must not care about themselves).
- Ever-larger cities play a role too: overcrowded places undermine social cohesion. In these cities, life has become so stressful that people feel compelled to retreat into virtual worlds. They prefer spending time with their computers, phones and other devices to dealing with the people around them says William D King.
- Even though trust in institutions is declining in many countries, there are still several places where it remains strong. The WEF’s 2016 Global Competitiveness Survey shows that Switzerland ranks first in terms of trust in institutions (for example, banks), while it came second for trust in the country’s government behind only Denmark.
- With so much pessimism about the future currently being express, I was wondering how it might be possible to restore trust and confidence even by small degrees. Fortunately, two new scientific papers shed some light on this perplexing question.
- The first paper looks at what happens when children are asked to divide resources between themselves and others. When they do this repeatedly in experimental settings, they develop a sense of fairness and learn not to keep all the resources for themselves. But these good habits go away when children are forced to share with groups outside their own social circle. This is because young children have an in-group bias against people from other social circles.
- In this context, then, being optimistic about the future may be a way to overcome one’s natural in-group bias towards those who have similar characteristics that define our identity. It seems likely that optimism would support trust among people with similar identities. But might also reduce divisions between them and others who have different identities. In line with this argument, there was evidence from a study conduct last year with indigenous Fijians Fiji. That greater optimism led to more interpersonal trust and less in-group bias.
- Another paper looked at the relationship between optimism, people’s beliefs. About their economic future and what they do to try and improve that future explains William D King. The researchers found that when people held more optimistic views of their economic futures. They were also more likely to engage in behaviors such as getting additional education or looking for a new job. These results suggest that optimism may be an important component of the resilience require. To overcome economic hardship (especially when combined with social support). Together, these studies provide some clues regarding ways to restore trust. By promoting optimism across societies and overcoming some natural divisions between groups. While focusing on the long term rather than immediate gains.
We should be optimistic about the future because it is possible to restore trust; by promoting optimism across societies, overcoming divisions between groups while focusing on the long term.
Pessimism might be bad because it upholds the status quo and so doesn’t help improve anything-neither trust nor anything else. Also it harms people’s mental health by depressing them.