As an investor, founder, CEO and business book author, I write about startups, design, how to build a good business, and I like to muse about culture in any form.

Trust (and helpful strangers)

I love living in a place, and a country, where the level of trust among the citizenry is so high.  I’ve written about this before, however you might need to have lived overseas to really appreciate what I am saying.  But here’s a tiny two-part example.  I bought some Cream of Wheat a couple weeks ago and somehow got home without it.   Today, I brought the  old receipt to the service desk at Stop and Shop, and explained why I wanted a “free” box.  No problem.   The employee wrote a little note on my slip, and gave me a fresh box in a bag…good to go.

wheat1In the meantime, I dropped my shopping list somewhere in the service counter vicinity.  I returned to search a couple times.  The second time an elderly lady said, “Are you looking for something?  Can I help you?”

Not every American individual, or business, operates on an “innocent until proven guilty” basis.  And there is a higher level of this trust of strangers outside of big cities.  But generally, this is the American ethos, or aspiration, and I am grateful for it every day.  I hear it was spreading like wildfire in DC on Inauguration Day.   That must have beeen a marvel to behold.  Long may it last.

4 Responses to “Trust (and helpful strangers)”

  1. Daniel Weinreb

    My new car is great, except that the “you’re running out of gas” light on the dashboard is tiny instead of big and red. So, three times I have run out of gas. Each time, somebody, very near and very quickly, has appeared and volunteered to help me, getting gasoline for my car. It’s astonishing.

    I strongly believe that the reason Americans generally comply with federal income tax is that they pretty much feel that everybody else does so, too. If they felt otherwise, they’d feel like fools, paying their share when nobody else does, and it would be like Italy, where tax dodging is rampant. It all works because of mutual trust.

    A sign of progress in America is the scope of trust. For example, more white people are willing to trust more black people, and vice versa. This buildup of “social capital”, as it’s sometimes called, takes time, but has a lot of value. Sadly, it can be lost much more quickly than it can be created, and that’s happened recently with the Islamic community in America. One of my hopes for the upcoming years is that we can start rebuilding this trust.

  2. julespieri

    I love your perspective Dan, and your roadside Samaritans story. On your point about tax-paying compliance, Irish people express surprise (and perhaps a twinge of disdain) at how, as a nation, we tend to follow the rules and be rather law-abiding.

    I did see differences in Ireland that were both positive and negative on that score. The negative bit was if you knew how to game the system (jumping the waiting list for a private school, negotiating a special quote on an insurance policy, getting citizenry approved a year before the official time had elapsed– are all real life examples we experienced during our residency there), you could have it over on the less-savvy or fluent citizens, which would tend to have been in some way disadvantaged (by birth, generally). But the positive bit was not encountering the big walls set up by “The Rules” that are pretty normal in the US. People, and systems, were more flexible and there is sometimes a virtue in that.

    Anyway, your thoughts are loftier that what I just described, and I share your hope on rebuilding the trust and social capital in the areas where we, as a nation, have fallen short. In that vein, I mainly look overseas and rebuilding those relationships, but we have plenty of work to do within our own borders too.

  3. Daniel Weinreb

    About people who know how to game the system: I’ve certainly seen that here in the USA, but it’s not a way of life here. People who I know frown on it.

    Unfortunately, I know that some people really do try to do this; the ones I know are at a lower point on the socio-economic scale. Their feeling was that if you’re in a small car accident, your eyes light up with dollar signs as you figure out how you’ll exaggerate your troubles in order to get a bigger insurance payout. (On the other hand, taking advantage of an insurance company seen as huge, rich, and impersonal, does not have the same feel as taking advantage of people you know!)

    Also, so many countries do lots of graft and bribery as a way of life. Here, as far as I can tell, it’s extremely rare. There is certainly corruption, but far less than in many countries, and if, say, a politician is caught doing something significantly bad, it usually hurts her or his career. Compare with Italy, where Silvio Berlusconni keeps getting elected despite is blatant criminality.

    Yes, there’s plenty to do right here. I’m very hopeful about the change in administration and the tone it will set for America.


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