Culture of Mistrust (Writ Large)

April 20, 2021

This has been a difficult week as a society inside the United States. To see 5 police officers killed in Dallas, TX, earlier this week, and today another 3 killed in Baton Rouge, LA, is simply shocking. There is no excuse, whatsoever, to take an innocent life. Period. Hard stop.

In the mid-1990s, at the beginning of my career, I worked in the Federal Bureau of Prisons for 4 years. For six years in the early 2000s I partnered with another psychologist as we started and ran a company that offered assessment to law enforcement agencies across the country. Law enforcement is a noble profession. The vast majority of people who choose law enforcement as a career choose it because they genuinely want to make the world a better place. They believe they can do so through protecting and servicing the communities where they work.

So what is going on?!?

If you listen to the pundits over the past week, they will state, repeatedly, that the shooters in both these cases were “mentally ill.” I would suggest this view is not only short-sighted, it is wrong. What we are seeing is a lack of trust or mistrust between two communities, writ large.

Trust has been very well studied in the field of psychology. This is the formula for trust:

Trust = Experience (ROCC)

Trust is equal to Experience divided by Risk or Vulnerability. But experience is not random. Experience is defined by four every day behaviors (Reliability, Openness, Competence and Concern). Reliability refers to metrics, rewards, and integrity. Openness refers to transparency, authenticity, and openness to developmental feedback. Competence is about skill sets (i.e. job performance, leadership, communication, etc.). Concern refers to genuine interest. All these everyday behaviors are divided by Risk or Vulnerability. What that means is that the great one feels at risk or vulnerable to the much greater experience that a person must have to trust another person.

What we are seeing in this country, for a variety of reasons, is the results of lack of trust between law enforcement and the African American community. African Americans feel vulnerable to law enforcement. Law enforcement officers obviously feel vulnerable when approaching certain suspects – often African Americans.

The pundits, who are attributing these incidences to mental illness, are missing the boat because if you write these incidences off to mental illness you can’t see that they are based on lack of trust. We hear many from all corners of the country calling for us to feel “less hate” and “more love in our hearts.” The problem is that to feel love in our hearts, we must be able to make ourselves vulnerable. The more vulnerable we feel, the greater levels of Reliability, Openness, Competence, and Concern we must experience from another party. What is going on in our society over the past couple of weeks is not about mental illness, it is about trust and lack thereof.

Keep cultivating your culture!

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