Things I wish I knew


For a couple of years now, I’ve been posting things I learned as a way of cultivating curiosity.[0]

But this year I’ve stumbled upon a different sort of thing I want to train myself to notice: things I wish I knew.

I find myself somewhat embarrassed to post these. But why? Probably because I feel like if I were truly motivated, I would be able to figure them out.

I think this is the wrong instinct. Someone out there almost definitely knows the answer to them and there’s a chance they just swing along and tell me. In that case, I’m better off. And some of the most impactful projects I’ve seen first hand have begun with someone wondering, “why is this the way that it is?”

Since sifting my thoughts for these, I’ve found them to be way harder to capture. I’ve had 2-3 hit me and then disappear, only for me to be unable to locate them again. This almost never happens to me with “things I learned.” I wonder why that is?

Now, for my first one:

I wish I understood how individual trust is converted into group/institutional trust and how group/institutional trust converts into societal trust. I feel like I have a good idea on how an individual creates or destroys trust, but don’t think I understand how it converts for a team the size of a small company (say ~25-40 people), let alone a large company (thousands of people) or a society. Say you’re the mayor of a small city and you think a high trust society is important. Is it possible to do anything to foster this? How does it work?

My hypothesis: I assume it’s some combination of credibility, reliability, and lack of self interest. So when people see society work (e.g., civic institutions function well, utilizing judgment, being able to be counted on) and that individuals aren’t profiting at the expense of the group, civic trust goes up. But… I could be wrong. If you feel like you definitively understand this, reach out: jdilla.xyz at gmail dot com.

[0]: I’ll probably keep doing that, because why not? It’s super fun.

American squalor


Regulations themselves aren’t the problem, though. Germany, like much of northern Europe, is a high-regulation society, but it’s also high-trust, compared to the US. Here, nice and fully functional things are built without fear of misuse. For Americans, who have both a high-regulation and low-trust society, this is all rather depressing; it’s the combination that means we can’t have nice things.

I like to live here, but the reality is we are rapidly falling behind the rest of the world in liveability, especially when you adjust for our wealth. Our cities are being frozen in time by an absurd, centralised regulatory mindset, which sees human flourishing as dirty and unsafe, and seems determined to wring out the last drops of any soul from our urban spaces. A mindset that manifests as one useless La Sombrita at a time.

By Chris Arnade.

Trust and American Church attendance


So many gems in this piece by Ryan Burge, Church Attendance Used to Drive Up Trust, It Doesn't Anymore.

Trust is one of my favorite topics because I think it is one of those invisible things that makes all the difference. A high trust team can move faster and do things a low trust team can't do. Similarly, a high trust society can move quickly and do things a low trust society cannot do. Increasingly over the past 50 years, America is becoming a low trust society.

Some things that surprised me in the article:

The epic decline in trust among Republicans


As Burge points out, this isn't as simple of a story as it might seem. Trust and educational attainment are positively correlated and educational attainment is increasingly a driver of partisanship. However, the Republican coalition is filled with people that are less likely to believe that other people can be trusted than it was 50 years ago.

Increasing distrust among people with low levels of educational attainment

Quoting directly from Burge:

The main culprit for that growing divide is that those with low levels of education how grown more distrustful: 60% in the 1970s up to 77% in the 2010s. I think this should be ringing alarm bell for American democracy. There are lots of folks out there with low levels of education who are deeply distrustful of their fellow man.

Religious attendance is now negatively correlated with trust


One of the things that stood out most to me while reading Bowling Alone was the role that churches and other religious institutions played in preparing people to participate in civic life. [0] They were the training grounds of democracy where someone learns to lead at a small level, experiences what it's like, and then decides that they have the capability to take the next step. I know this is true for me; the very first times I led teams at work, I thought back to leading groups at my church in high school, what created credibility, and what destroyed it.

Burge hypothesizes that it might be due sorting, you're less likely to meet people that are unlike you and therefore are less likely become more trusting. I'm not sure if I agree with it, but I don't have a better hypothesis yet. But I do know that seeing this change is sad for me.

0: I can't link to this because I haven't imported blogposts from my old blog yet... shame on me!

Where trust comes from


I found this video to be a helpful distillation of concepts I'd heard before with a couple things that were new to me.

I'd known that trust is a combination of credibility, reliability, intimacy, and self interest, but I hadn't heard the sub components before:


  • The words we use
  • The skills / credentials we bring
  • How other people experience our expertise


  • Actions we take
  • Our predictability
  • Will others find us dependable


  • Empathy
  • Discretion

Self interest (destroys trust)

  • Do you seem to be prioritizing yourself over the group / others