Trust and Understanding

The public doesn’t understand what most professionals do.

That’s a big part of what it means to be a member of many professions. Not many people know what all the little switches and dials in the cockpit do. Not many can handle a scalpel. Not many can manage investments.

Fewer still probably even want to do any of those things.

Knowing this, professions (and professionals) tend to build up lots of symbols and signals to show themselves worthy of sustained public trust. They have uniforms, licenses, Hippocratic oaths.

These symbols embody a shared understanding that’s really important to how our society functions: the rest of us say to the various professions, “We don’t understand what you do and we probably never will, but we need you to do your work — and, most of all, we need to be able to trust you to do this work we need and do not understand.”

Whatever symbols or credentials come to define a profession, the fact remains that they are emblems not of the professionals’ superiority but rather of the public’s trust. When professions (or professionals) lose their way, they hide shoddy work behind symbols of trust, and insist that the rest of us couldn’t possibly understand.

It’s true: we might not understand the buttons, the scalpel, the ticker. But it doesn’t take a lot of technical understanding to know a breach of trust or a bunker mentality when we see it.