The Trick of Trust

10 Aug

I want to make a couple of observations about trust, inspired by a recent situation in the city where some mature trees were removed in Queen Square. I’ll give you my punch line first, so you don’t need to read the whole thing if you don’t want.

My personal experience to date, with both my council colleagues, and with our municipal public servants, is that they are committed, trustworthy, and dedicated to the public good. Can they improve their practices? Of course; just as I can. Do I agree with all the decisions and positions they take? No. But neither do they agree with my positions and statements all the time. Do I agree with all of the policies and procedures by which we govern and by which public servants operate? Nope, but I still believe we need them (and that we can work to change the ones that need to be changed). Do we agree on what constitutes the ‘public good’? Sometimes, but not always. Do we define leadership and representation in the same ways? Not entirely. But does any of this mean that they can’t be trusted or aren’t working hard to be good representatives? No.

***end punch line here; enter additional commentary ☺***

I understand that some (perhaps many?) residents feel a general cynicism and lack of trust towards both elected officials (municipal and otherwise) and public servants (including city employees). I also know that a lack of trust is easily created, or entrenched, by situations like this one, where residents felt surprised by something that they should have been involved with, or at least should have known about. But these issues are, by and large, systemic.

Many of today’s institutions and systems (of all sorts), are not designed to promote meaningful engagement and inclusion, to facilitate collaboration, or to respond to the many complex social, environmental, and economic challenges we face. However, these systemic issues, which we are absolutely compelled to address, are not usefully, accurately, or appropriately laid at the feet of individuals. Rather, systemic problems need systemic solutions. And we will not get there if we cannot work respectfully together.

In this great TED Talk (, Margaret Heffernan talks about the importance of engaging in productive conflict. She suggests it requires, “…find[ing] people who are very different from ourselves…. [We need to] seek out people with different backgrounds, different disciplines, different perspectives, and different experiences, and find ways to engage with them. That requires a lot of patience, and a lot of energy… and you simply won’t commit that kind of energy and time if you don’t really care. And we also have to be prepared to change our minds…”. She goes on to suggest that productive conflict, as with all other skills, requires practice. She does not talk specifically about trust, but I would suggest that we also need trust for productive conflict.

I don’t know the answer to how we go about re-creating enough trust to provide a foundation for productive conflict, but if we’re going to talk about what we need from each other to build a better city, let’s start here.


2 Responses to “The Trick of Trust”

  1. Ayesha August 19, 2012 at 1:21 pm #

    Leah, I’m sure you mean well but this is an incredibly patronising post that is sure to cause some level of outrage among Ward 10 residents whom you represent. Trust has to be earned, and in my short time in Fredericton, the council has done very little to nurture that trust. I can absolutely see why those who have been here longer than I, would be even more cynical about the real motivations of many council policies and decisions.

    Intellectually dishonest behaviour like this from the Mayor of the provincial capital does very little to inspire trust. The lawn signs of ONLY the mayoral opponent candidate mysteriously disappearing or being vandalised does not inspire trust. Poorly publicised rushed council meetings in the week before an election to sell off York House to developers (instead of using the building to provide much needed services and a community hub to local residents) does not inspire trust. You, Leah, failing to announce that a piece of land in ward 10 (former train station corridor) that has been contaminated with petroleum since the 1960s – which poses a health hazard to your residents – is only NOW being decontaminated, does not inspire trust.

    Please do not patronise those whom you represent. We are not idiots. It is no coincidence that trees have been cut down at Queen’s Square near a new apartment complex. It is no coincidence that while workers at the site say that the road IS going to be widened, the council vehemently denies this. If you really believe that Fredericton Council does what it says it will do in every instance, then I’m not sure where you’ve been of late.

    Frederictonians cannot trust a council that behaves in such a belligerent and dishonest manner towards its residents. What I’ve mentioned is only the tip of the iceberg. There are many more reasons for mistrust that I and other Frederictonians could list here.

    It is your job and the job of the council to EARN trust, not lecture us about it with either naiveity or complicity with those who will happily forget their mandate towards Frederictonions when there is an opportunity for personal gain. I do hope that it is the former that you’re guilty of and not the latter.

    Leah, I am sure that I am not alone in saying that Ward 10 would much prefer an assertive one term councillor that does everything in her power to represent her constituents with ethics and a refreshing, direct approach. We don’t want another Obama here. We’d much prefer that you abide by ethical principles, speak up loud and clear and represent us and become an outcast at council, rather than engaging in the usual gently gently “appeasing both sides” brand of politics that may get you a second term, but doesn’t ring true to the ethical principles that your constituents demand of you. Most of the planet is sick to the back teeth with this appeasing brand of politics. We want courageous acts, not people who will conform to the system that they are within, but people who will challenge the system. We’ve all had enough, the corruption, the leadership by predominantly white males of a certain age at every level of government here in Canada. The double standards. The passing off of Christian prayer at council meetings as somehow neutral and part of “heritage”..when I’m pretty sure that this would not be the case if a Jewish, Muslim or Aboriginal prayer were requested… The fact that the historical Garrison district (Fredericton Tourism), out of all of its employees, only makes space for ONE Aboriginal individual (who I’ve never seen)…as though Fredericton had no Aboriginal history…The fact that the Fred Tourism logo and website contains not one single ethnic minority or Aboriginal person. These are all reasons for us to deeply deeply mistrust our leadership and organisations who work with them, as well as those who tell us “just trust us”.

    It’s time for people like you to ask the question, is it better to live one day as a tiger? Or a thousand years as a sheep?

    • leahlevac August 19, 2012 at 6:59 pm #

      Hi Ayesha,

      I’m sorry you found this post patronizing. You’re right that being patronizing certainly wasn’t my intention. My intention was precisely to say that I realize that there is a lack of trust, and that we need to do something about it. That’s all.

      I am unaware of the situation regarding contamination at the old train station; I will certainly follow up on it now that you’ve brought it to my attention.


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