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Our Trust in the Pandemic

Serena Honekin
Grade 11
The intricate interplay between trust and distrust has propelled the modernization of societies. For instance, the rejection of the Divine Right of Kings in favour of the social contract theories during the Age of Enlightenment exemplifies the society’s existence of eroding and fortifying trust. While the abandonment of the Divine Right signifies a distrust to follow the priests and kings blindly, the social contract outlines a model based on mutual trust within and among secular individuals to govern a society. Unsurprisingly, feelings of trust and distrust continue to remain prevalent today.

Extending from the social contract, so much of our current society indeed depends on the mutual trust we exhibit for one another. Although the placement of such trust may not be a conscious act, we demonstrate our trust in existing infrastructures through simple acts, such as purchasing the foods at grocery stores and boarding onto buses without overt concerns for our safety. In times of a pandemic, the level of societal trust influences the governmental approach to enforce health guidelines. In Sweden, where 60% of the participants in a World Values Survey believe that most people can be trusted, the government relies on its citizens to follow social distancing guidelines voluntarily. Although there is debate surrounding whether the harshly enforced guidelines of low-trust societies are a better response to COVID-19, intentional trust amongst all, especially towards the medical community, is crucial in the efforts to achieve herd immunity.

The level of trust fluctuates during difficult times. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, Canadians’ views on the roles of government and business have decreased significantly since the beginning of the pandemic. The industry of telecommunications, however, has seen a 19% increase in trust, as Canadians have found themselves relying on its services for communication and information. Pandemics can also ferment distrust, evident from the historical past and the present future. The bubonic plague in the fourteenth century had amplified the distrust towards Jews, and similarly, the Spanish Flu in 1918 had sparked widespread rumours that enemies from World War I were spreading the virus. Such distrust lingers in the future generations as shown by responses to the question, “would you say that most people can be trusted or that you can't be too careful in dealing with people”. In the U.S. General Social Surveys since 1972, descendants from counties with a higher death rate from the Spanish Flu had lower levels of trust, approximately 1.4% lower for every one death per 1000 people. Concerning the current pandemic, distrust is once again enhanced with political figures controlling the political narrative of Coronavirus, causing an increase in attacks on Asian-Americans.

As lives shift throughout the uncertainty of the pandemic, opportunities to either distrust or trust have and will continue to arise. Although there are continuous reports on the attacks of Asian-Americans, there remains trust – companies have trusted their employees to work flexibly from home with the use of online tools and governments have expanded social services to cover applicants’ basic needs. Although healthy skepticism is necessary to hold a party responsible for their actions, trust leads to the necessary social cooperation to combat the Coronavirus and, ultimately, to progress society.