Playing by the Old Rules Means Losing at a New Game

As I sat down to write this piece, I didn’t have a starting point. Heck, I didn’t even have a topic.

Being good at procrastinating as well as being ready to be distracted, I checked my email.

And, wouldn’t you know, I found a message from a colleague in North Carolina who had sent an intriguing news video based on an article published by the National Journal entitled “In Nothing We Trust”.

The article presented evidence demonstrating that a trust deficit is building and eating away at the social fabric of American communities. Trusted icons like Walter Cronkite no longer exist in the media, movie stars fail to inspire, and integrity and trustworthiness seem to be increasingly rare among politicians.

My guess is that Canadian research would likely reflect the same findings as more and more people seem to be losing faith and confidence in their institutions. There is a growing belief that government, corporations, the media, organized religion, schools, unions, and financial institutions are letting us down.

Yet, should it really be a surprise?

Traditionally, times of social and economic change have always required adaptation.

Think about the stress and the change among our social institutions at the turn of the 20th century as we shifted from an agricultural-based economy to the industrial era.

During that time period there was also a loss of faith in social institutions as they struggled to respond to powerful capitalists, urban growth, poverty, illiteracy, and the social cost of the modern era.

But, somehow, institutions either adapted or gave way to new ones.

Government helped address social ills and labour unions helped buttress corporations only focused on profit. When people lost the sense of community they had known in smaller communities as the result of barn-raisings and quilt-making, the growth of fraternal and societal organizations grew substantially.

The challenge today is that we are disappointed as much by the leaders within those institutions as we are with the institutions themselves. Additionally, many are dismayed by both the perceived lack of accountability of those leaders and by the unfairness they fail to stem as the divide between the haves and have-nots continues to grow. 

There clearly is a sense that our institutions and their leaders need to change. Even when they are making an effort, they simply aren’t changing fast enough. As a result, government, churches, schools, and other organizations are increasingly being seen as irrelevant.

It’s not that people don’t see the value of institutions and structure. It is perhaps more a growing understanding that people who play by the old rules are losing at a new game. 

Would it be a big deal to lose our social institutions? What if people did disconnect and turn away from engaging in their communities? After all, many are already losing trust and no longer readily see the value of following the rules of society.

Of course, it would be a big deal.

Strong, safe, and vibrant communities can’t happen if people don’t trust their institutions. When we trust our institutions we’re more likely to vote, volunteer, and take care of one another by working together to tackle the complex challenges that require multifaceted and creative solutions.

Ultimately that means we all have to work at ensuring we have institutions we can trust. 

Each of us can be part of the solution by speaking up and stepping up to ensure that public engagement in the design of those solutions is made a priority.

Posted on 05-06-12


Yes! As our ‘traditional’ leaders cling to the idea that top-down leadership is the ONLY way - they are missing out on the valuable contribution from grassroots community champions. The collective always has more interesting and viable solutions to today’s challenges.

•Posted by Janet Naclia  on  05/07/12  at  12:17 PM


Nice article Brenda! Well written. I’d like to post the link on my site…

•Posted by mario bianchi  on  10/30/13  at  09:53 AM

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