A couple of weeks ago we found ourselves at the University of Chichester in the front row of a traditionally tiered lecture theatre. We were there to listen to Professor Patrick Sturgis from Southampton University talking on trust.
Patrick based most of his argument on methods that involved large data sets going back decades including the 1959 ‘Generalised Trust Question’. Insights included a fact that trust had remained largely constant in the UK over the last forty years, whereas in the US it had been declining.
But it was his reference to chicken soup that grabbed my attention; that trust was the ‘chicken soup’ of human relations. He was quoting Eric Uslaner (Uslaner, 2002) from the University of Maryland who said.
Trust is the chicken soup of social life. It brings us all sorts of good things, from a willingness to get involved in our communities to higher rates of economic growth and, ultimately, to satisfaction with government performance, to making daily life more pleasant. Yet, like chicken soup, it appears to work somewhat mysteriously. It might seem that we can only develop trust in people we know. Yet, trust’s benefits come when we put faith in strangers.
Chicken soup conjures up feelings of comfort, warmth, family and reassurance, particularly in times of un-settlement or ill-health. It was a stark contrast to the graphs and comments about statistical significance. Like with many subjects there are many routes to knowledge. These few lines, which one can almost ‘smell’, not only captured the essence of what trust feels like inside us, but draws this experience into the issues that matter in a functioning society of which we are part. Trust therefore exists both at a person-to-person level and in the context of wider society in ways that are difficult to fathom.
Uslaner E (2002) The Moral Foundations of Trust. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.