Is Trust Possible?

He was considered a pioneer in the treatment of pain. Yet, for more than ten years, beginning in 1996, this distinguished anesthetist had fabricated the results of studies published in prestigious medical reviews.

“I CANNOT begin to comprehend why a person would take this course,” says Dr. Steven L. Shafer, quoted in Anesthesiology News.

What would motivate a respected professional to deceive his fellow man? Consider four possible causes.

Greed. In a New York Times report, Dr. Jerome Kassirer, a former editor of The New England Journal of Medicine, explains: “When researchers are beholden to [pharmaceutical] companies for much of their income, there is an incredible tendency to get results that are favorable to the company.”

Success at all costs. Science students in Germany are believed to have paid out thousands of euros in bribes to teachers to “earn” the title of Doktor, a symbol of success in that country. A study described in The New York Times found that many students who cut ethical corners said that they “intended to follow a strict code of values” after they attained success.

The absence of role models. Regarding high school students, one professor is quoted in The New York Times as saying: “We might be tempted to say they’ve lost their moral compass . . . It’s probably better to say that  their teachers and mentors and the rest of society never helped them construct and internalize a moral compass in the first place.”

Practices that are inconsistent with values. In a study of nearly 30,000 students, 98 percent said they believed that honesty is essential in personal relationships. However, 8 of every 10 students admitted that they had lied to their parents, and 64 percent admitted to cheating on an exam during the previous year.

Superior Moral Principles

As noted in the box on this page, humans seem designed to trust. Nevertheless, the Bible realistically states that “the inclination of the heart of man is bad from his youth up.” (Genesis 8:21) How can you battle that inclination and resist the tide of dishonesty that is so prevalent today? The following Bible principles can help:

“Do not fabricate against your fellowman anything bad, when he is dwelling in a sense of security with you.”​—Proverbs 3:29.

Love for our neighbor moves us to seek his welfare, not to abuse his trust. This principle could put an end to numerous forms of human exploitation motivated by greed, such as the trafficking of counterfeit medicine, discussed at the outset of this series.

“Truth will last forever; lies are soon found out.”​—Proverbs 12:19, “Contemporary English Version.”

Many today believe that honest people are at a disadvantage. But ask yourself, ‘What is more valuable​—gaining immediate rewards or long-lasting benefits, including self-respect?’ A student may deceive others concerning his knowledge or skills by cheating on exams, but how will he fare in the workplace?

“The righteous is walking in his integrity. Happy are his sons after him.”​—Proverbs 20:7.

If you are a parent, set a good example for your children by ‘walking in integrity.’ Explain to them how you have benefited by following an upright course. When children see a parent walking the path of integrity, they are more likely to adopt a trustworthy course themselves.​—Proverbs 22:6.

Do the above Bible principles really work? Can trustworthy people be found today?

[Blurb on page 4]

According to the newspaper Le Figaro, more and more French people “think that the leading figures in society​—in political, economic, social, and cultural circles—​are not virtuous, and they do not see why they should be so themselves.”

[Box on page 5]


Experiments conducted by Michael Kosfeld, a professor of business administration at Frankfurt University in Germany, led him to the conclusion that trust is “a biologically-based part of human nature.” Kosfeld discovered that when there is interaction between two people, the human brain releases oxytocin, a hormone that stimulates trust. “It is, in fact, one of the distinguishing features of the human species,” Kosfeld states. “When trust is absent, we are, in a sense, dehumanized.”