Published in the Summer 2007 edition of the Green Focus, the newspaper of the California Green Party.

The Value of Trust

By Ray Tobey, April 2007

After more than four years of nearly full time volunteering on political campaigns, my plate was empty last November. So I started researching how elections are won. Of the 23 campaigns I've been involved with, we've often made a very strong showing, sometimes as high as 45%. But with only four victories, the final margin has been very elusive.

As part of this research, I've asked people "What is the most important quality for a candidate?" I believe the answer is "trustworthiness". I checked several versions of the ten key values, but the word "trust" was not mentioned anywhere. Some say that trust is assumed, but I believe our lack of attention to the matter goes to the root of our failures at the polls and our troubles within the party.

A few Greens claim that "personal responsibility" is a blanket covering trust. The explanations that I checked were all variations on "think globally, act locally". According to these, one might think that responsibility means we should buy hybrids.

Elected officials have always answered my question with "honesty" or "integrity"— both good. However, if I were to ask a friend for help, an honest one might say, "No, I'm busy," or "No, I don't want to do that." A trustworthy friend would help me, even if it required a sacrifice.

Integrity means "steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code". Tom Lantos, San Mateo's 14-term congressman, uses the word as his slogan—and he certainly fulfills the definition. However, his code includes doing anything and everything in support of Israel. This support brings lavish donations from across the country that he uses to ensure both his seat and national influence. Unfortunately, I think Lantos' actions have damaged the interests of the United States and his constituents. Perhaps this makes him electable, but unconscious integrity is nothing I could be proud of. I must listen to others and constantly evaluate the consequences of my actions to determine if my code needs improvement.

Only competent candidates are worthy of my trust. If the office is Treasurer, then good standing in professional finance outweighs all ten of our key values. Yet, no one is perfect, so I must allow for the occasional mistake or divergent opinion. Insisting on a paragon of virtue is unrealistic and brings doubt to my own credibility. No one trusts a zealot.

"Foundations of Social Theory" by James Coleman offers a four-part explanation of trust:

People do not vote for values, they vote for candidates. By Coleman's definition, I believe those votes are acts of trust. Therefore, if I were to run for school board, for instance, what I would like to communicate to each voter is this:

These points are best not said but proven by working within a community for years before the election. While techniques exist to convey and reinforce trust, normally it cannot be done quickly.

Unfortunately, the Greens may be the party of distrust. We certainly distrust authority. We flock to conspiracy theories. We whine and complain about everything, particularly how the deck is stacked. We're quick to denounce others, even fellow Greens and progressives. I suspect that we've even built distrust into the structure of our organization by eliminating positions of responsibility and leadership. As a consequence of all this, the voters often distrust us and our candidates.

Americans don't want full time democracy, instead preferring to leave the tedious details of everyday government to someone else. In elections, otherwise virtuous, even prophetic candidates don't seem to win very often. My conclusion is that long-term trust is the key to the discriminating voter and majority percentages. As we evaluate potential candidates, I suggest we consider how each will affect the voters' trust in the party. Further, practicing trust with our teammates could markedly improve the effectiveness of the party and our satisfaction with it.

In short, I believe that trust is more important than the ten key values. We will not win offices until we learn to trust each other—and then earn the trust of the voters.

The Speed of Trust

After writing the article above, I found the book The Speed of Trust by Steven M. R. Covey. It's aimed at business management, but is by far the most insightful book I've ever found for activists and candidates.

Covey makes clear that trust is an understandable process by breaking it down into components: integrity, intent, capabilities, results. He then breaks down those components into their parts: integrity is congruence, humilty, courage. Covey explains the dividends to be gained and repercussions paid for each component done well or poorly. He offers concrete suggestions for behaviors that will increase your commitment to each point.

With these cores, an individual becomes credible. Covey then explains how trust in an individual flows outward to relationships, then to organizations and society. The waves ripple like concentric circles, as if you had cast a stone into a pond.