The Tension Between Trust and Healthy Skepticism

We are living is a time of concern about mistrust, misinformation, and polarization. Edelman has been warning us for years now about deepening distrust that promotes misinformation because people do not know what to believe. It promotes polarization because they come to trust only people with beliefs similar to their own. As we confront misinformation, healthy skepticism is an essential coping skill, but when it becomes cynicism, it comes into conflict with another essential – trust.

For taking care of our health, we need both healthy skepticism and an ability to trust others with professional skills to provide needed care and support.

Trust and Vulnerability

Peter Kim is Professor of Management and Organization at the University of Southern California in the Marshall School of Business. He is the author of How Trust Works: The Science of How Relationships Are Built, Broken, and Repaired.

In a recent interview, Kim offered a very helpful definition for trust:

“A willingness to make oneself vulnerable in situations involving risk based on positive expectations of the other.”

Three parts to this definition are essential – vulnerability, risk, and positive expectations.

Essential in Health and Obesity Care

With that definition of trust in hand, it is relatively easy to see why it is so essential for good health and obesity care. Vulnerability is high when our health is at risk – especially so when obesity compromises our health. All too often, health professionals have violated trust by bringing weight bias into interactions with patients for whom obesity is a fact of life.

The result, all too often, is that people living with obesity avoid healthcare and their health suffers further – simply from a lack of trust. It becomes difficult for people to have positive expectations of health providers after many negative experiences.

Blind Trust and Skepticism

This is where the tension between healthy skepticism and trust comes into play. In a a world where some information and even some health professionals are not trustworthy, one must bring healthy skepticism, not blind trust, when they seek answers and care.

Specifically for obesity care, it pays to seek out providers who have made the effort to learn more than most about this complex chronic disease. Certification by the American Board of Obesity Medicine is one indicator of this.

Even more fundamentally, healthy skepticism can arm a person with questions that are essential – whether they are seeking care or evaluating the information that floods our lives every day.

Good questions come from healthy skepticism and curiosity. Good answers can become the foundation for trust.

Click here for more about how trust works and here for perspective on the distinction between skepticism and cynicism.

Hell, etching by Eduard Wiiralt, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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January 7, 2024