In a Democratic society, few things are more important than trust. We have to trust our neighbors, our co-workers, and our government. This is what makes a free and open society work. But trust must be earned. If trust is given to those whom are untrustworthy, systems fail just as rapidly, perhaps more rapidly, than if no trust is granted at all. Everything works better in a high trust society.
Trust is why America works. America doesn’t work because of Democracy. Democracy works because of trust. Certain systems can engender trust in our fellow man, mostly because those systems enable individuals to fulfill their personal needs without ripping off other people. When systems break down, people tend to circle the wagons, hoarding as much for themselves as possible. But beyond systems, are the values and capabilities of the people that work in those systems.
Recently at my job, the office I worked in experienced some difficulties in one of the sections. The job was not getting done to my supervisor’s liking. The historic way that my supervisor tried to fix problems was by changing systems; more Excel spreadsheets, more trackers, more redundant systems. But to me, the problem was the people. No system can cover every problem–there’s always a loophole. Success comes when you put the best people in the right positions. So we made a personnel change. It wasn’t easy explaining to the soldier why he was removed from the position, but I had to tell him that his attention to detail was lacking so that he could fix the problem in the future.
On Friday, my office usually plays touch football against another section. I play quarterback. One thing I quickly identify is whom I can trust when I throw the ball to them. Who drops the ball? Who can’t get open? Who doesn’t know how to run patterns? After a few dropped passes, I don’t want to throw the ball to certain receivers. One soldier in particular on my team is an excellent athlete and football player. He catches the ball when I throw it to him, knows the game, and has good speed. I end up looking to him first on most plays and we win often. I do try to spread the ball around just so that other people have fun. But if our team really needs a score, I know who I’m looking for. I trust that player. It is not so much about a system that guarantees or maximizes the chances of our success–it’s about knowing who the most capable person is. One person on the team is an advocate of designing plays so that each player has an assignment. While this would be fine if we had lots of time to practice it doesn’t work very well for our situation. The only direction that is usually given is deciding who blocks, who throws and who receives. Once in a while I’ll tell a receiver to run a certain pattern, but mostly it’s just “get open.” We were actually less successful when we tried to assign each receiver a pattern. He could not make the small adjustments needed to get away from defenders, since his assigned pattern may take him towards a safety or linebacker and not away. So we run our offense like the old Run and Shoot.
These two anecdotes reinforce my politics: That nations are not made by regulation, but by the capabilities and attitudes of millions of individuals. Only individuals can make on the ground assessments and quick changes to make sure things get done the way they should. We are guided by principles, but a rule cannot guarantee success, and we can see by looking at the IRS’ tax code that millions of pages of regulation still leaves loopholes.
For me, it’s never going to be about regulations. It’s always about trust and people.