I think I have discovered the source of respect. It is embedded in the belief that you can benefit from the person disagreeing with you, that there is something to be learned from the disagreement. As if saying: ”I will respect your disagreement so long as I believe I can learn from it… and so long as you disagree without becoming disagreeable.”

Respect is earned mostly with -and learned from -experience.

The utmost respect occurs when you believe that you can learn from everyone without the need for proof. When your personality is open and curious all the time, you grant respect to everyone.

But what about trust? What makes some people trust while others react with suspicion?

I think I found an answer.

It depends on whether you believe in a growing or in a fixed, or worse, in a shrinking pie.

Let me explain.

A belief in a growing pie is the belief that in the future things will be better. There will be more for all of us. So whoever works hard and contributes to the pie, will only make it grow (which will benefit everyone). And for that reason we will not object too much if he or she is exceptionally rewarded.

A belief in a fixed pie is a belief that what is available is limited, so if someone works hard, it does not mean the pie will grow. On the contrary, if he works extremely hard and by doing so manages to secure a bigger piece of the pie, there will be less for us. Thus, people try to undermine the ambitious worker and make it difficult for him to excel and in doing so prevent him from taking a larger share of the pie.

In a society with a shrinking pie belief system, there is an attempt even to delegitimize anyone who is entrepreneurial, anyone who might claim a larger piece of the pie for himself. (In the Soviet Union, an entrepreneur was a synonym for the word “speculant” and in danger of being sent to a gulag).

In a growing pie culture, I can afford to trust others and yield to their interests, sacrificing my own. Why? Because of my belief in a growing pie. It leads me to believe that if I sacrifice my interests now, for the benefit of the other party, it will enable his efforts to make the pie grow and I will eventually receive a larger share myself.

My point is that trust is not some altruistic and pious notion. It is a form of behavior based on a logical belief system. It is in our self-interest to trust and thus encourage others to work hard and find their reward in a larger piece of the pie because eventually we will receive a bigger piece ourselves.

Let me repeat: It is in our interest to trust.

Some musings about how this applies in my analysis of the United States and elsewhere.

American culture has been based until now on mutual trust (and respect). I am constantly amazed that the IRS at least in the past trusted people to report their income honestly for tax purposes. It does not happen in countries of my childhood, and now I know why. There the belief system is based on the concept of a fixed pie and everyone is checking on everyone else.

In the US, the culture has been defined by an attitude: “the sky is the limit,” and if you work hard you can make it big. Moreover you will be encouraged to do so.

In a fixed pie culture the opposite occurs. If you are too entrepreneurial and stand out, people resent you. They put sticks in your wheel, trying to derail you. It was typical of old Europe.

I think the belief in a growing pie system within the United States emerged out of the vast size of this country and its largely unpopulated regions… There was space and opportunity for everyone. Just work hard.

Today the belief in a growing pie is very much alive in Silicon Valley, in high tech, and on Wall Street. But less true elsewhere in the nation. We read news accounts of the one percent getting richer, while the rest of the country feels their lives are becoming meaner and narrower, and that the pie has become fixed, in fact is shrinking, for everyone else. It is creating strong antagonism against well to do entrepreneurs. Thus the occupy Wall Street behavior. There is increasing animosity against those who have made it.

With a decline in trust internal disintegration begins to set in within the body politic and the society at large. The culture becomes narrower, meaner and the political and economic system itself starts to deteriorate.

Quo Vadis America?



Dr. Ichak Kalderon Adizes