Trust in Crises and Crises of Trust
Abstract: During times of crisis, institutions tend to focus on maintaining or restoring public trust, as well as on measures to insulate themselves (and their leadership) from potential legal liability. This is because institutions reflexively turn to lawyers, risk managers, crisis consultants, and public relations firms that focus on what they euphemistically call the “optics.” In this essay, I highlight the vital importance of addressing underlying reasons for an institution’s loss of public trust—in particular, the loss (or erosion) of its integrity and trustworthiness. Loss of public trust generates one kind of crisis—which I term “opsis.” But there is another kind of institutional crisis that so often remains unrecognized. Just as medical sepsis in the human body is a critical condition that endangers life, the loss of an institution’s integrity and trustworthiness constitutes a type of sepsis—ethical sepsis—that poses an existential threat to the institution if unaddressed.