I was listening to Radio 4 a couple of weeks ago, and heard the sort of comment that you’ll only ever get from a listener to the Today programme, who had written in:
‘I feel it’s a crying shame that the term BBC Trust has turned into an oxymoron’
Please bear with me on this, because your first reaction may be the same as mine, ie slight irritation at the self-serving sort of twit who thinks they’ve turned into the next Oscar Wilde because they know what oxymoron means, and has to prove it on national radio.
But, that aside, OW#2 does have a valid point, and one that I’d like to get some thoughts written down on, because Trust is a word that feels like it needs a bit of attention.
When I grew up, which, in the scheme of things, really wasn’t that long ago, you couldn’t move for parts of the world that you just naturally trusted. If you believed in an order in society, you’d have a natural trust for government and the police force. If you had a faith, or even if you didn’t, you’d probably trust the natural morality of religion. You trusted the media to tell you the truth, and you pretty much trusted the banks or the building societies to do something honourable with your money, like lend it to other people, who, by definition, you trusted. You trusted that your musical heroes were talented musicians, and it didn’t really strike you that sports stars would by default be pumping themselves full of EPO.
You even trusted the stars of light entertainment, in a way that is really quite hard to explain to today’s Generation Y. Being on the TV was so much of a big deal that you’d naturally be in awe of anyone who’d been anywhere near the lens end of a camera. So Operation Yewtree is actually far more of a big deal to those of us who saw ‘personalities’ on the TV week in week out, than it would ever be if it happened (or continues to happen) in the here and now. It’s interesting when you look at where the fingers have pointed on the whole sorry post-Savile mess here, as most of the people being called out are the ones with what you’d call ‘eccentric’ personalities – that’s what got them onto our screens in the first place. And, lo and behold, in a ‘always thought there was something odd about him’ style, we find that their sexual peccadilloes were, well, a little eccentric as well. And, as a result, we’ll head towards a society where you’ll just never trust anyone who displays any eccentricities, which in some ways is kind of a shame.
Anyway, given the list above, I’m scratching around to think of any body or anybody I can trust. I asked a group of friends about this a couple of months back, and we spent a fairly depressing time ticking people off the list. Politicians, policeman, judges, commentators, doctors, teachers, union and religious leaders, all got the chop, and at the end of the evening all we had left were Nelson Mandela and Mother Theresa. And depending on your point of view, you could claim that one of them is a retired terrorist and the other misappropriated funds from, amongst others, Haiti’s hated Duvalier clan.
So far, so depressing, and if its bad from my perspective, then just take a moment to think about it for someone born this side of 1999. Our kids have turned a healthy skepticism into a deep, deep mistrust of anything in power or authority, which you’d do well to understand next time you challenge their choice of role model.* When I ask my own children about this, they’ll fairly politely call out their family as role models that they trust, and then, well, they’re pretty well stuck.
The winners in our future society will be the ones that regain that trust and can use the word in a precious fashion, in the knowledge that trust takes a long time to build, and can take not very much effort (or lack of effort) to lose. The fact that this can happen without us really lifting an eyebrow (last year I’d probably say I had an element of trust in Google and the Co-Op, and I have a different view now), gives the lie to a world where people are completely vindicated by taking a suspicious and negative approach of everything around them.
I’d hope that all is not lost, although in the case of the bigger institutions above, it might take generations to regain credibility. In the meantime, I’m really hoping that one or two companies will be transparent enough to set out a trustworthy stall. If they stay true to their roots, they’ll clear up.
Sorry if this is all a bit downbeat and serious. Flippant comment on all that is irrelevant will return shortly.
* I’m talking to you, Daily Mail reader