Thursday, 1 September 2011


Being corrupt implies destroying integrity by being dishonest and tainting the object in question. The object is generally a relationship between an institution (or an officer of an institution) and an individual (a customer or stakeholder of that institution) in most cases. However, corruption also extends to individual relationships and that is in the simple form of trust. Trust is the corner stone of all relationships in my view; be it a parent-child or sibling relationship, friendship, boss-subordinate or peer-peer liaising, a doctor-patient association, state-civilian relationship etc. The presence of trust provides confidence that the individuals/institutions related in the equation will conduct themselves in an expected fashion. When that expected behavioral pattern is altered, uncertainty increases and doubts creep in causing friction in an otherwise agreeable equation.

In my experience and discussions, such encounters of broken trust are becoming increasingly common and frequent across social set-ups. These instances are of also of varieties and intensities. I am told there once was an individual who feigned illness with one friend to be able to go out partying with another set of friends. All was well until the time the friend who was lied to spotted her friend all hale and hearty making merry. No big deal really, but this definitely corroded an otherwise solid friendship especially since the trust was broken for a trivial reason. There are innumerable stories of bosses filling in their own bonus kitties and not fulfilling promises made to subordinates or alternatively unwarranted promotions being granted out of partiality. At the end of the year not only does it lead to heartburn but increases churn rates of employees in an organization impacting the team morale and general foundation of the entity in question. Negligent and unconcerned doctors cause grave damage to lives and the medical profession alike. Spousal mistrust leading to violence and abuse is only on the increase if media is to be believed. The state and the representatives of the state not delivering on their promises is now sadly an accepted part of life in India.

Why the breakdown of trust at individual levels leads to societal and professional discord is quite interestingly illustrated by Roy J. Lewicki’s framework[1] of trust and distrust.


characterized by:

Hope, Faith, onfidence, Assurance, Initiative

· High-value congruence

· Interdependence promoted

· Opportunities pursued

· New initiatives

· Trust but verify

· Relationships highly segmented & bounded

·Opportunities pursued & risks/vulnerabilities continually monitored


characterized by:

No Hope, No Faith, No Confidence, Passivity, Hesitance

· Casual acquaintances

· Limited interdependence

· Bounded, arms length transactions

· Professional courtesy

·Undesirable eventualities expected & feared

· Harmful motives assumed

· Interdependence managed

· Pre-emption, Best offense is good defense

· Paranoia


characterized by:

No fear, No Vigilance, Absence of Skepticism, Absence of Cynicism, Low Monitoring


characterized by:

Fear, Vigilance, Skepticism, Cynicism, Wariness, Watchfulness

If we were to assume a starting point, it may be fair enough to say that most relationships start in the quadrant of Low Trust – Low Distrust(1). There is little expectation from the involved parties of one another. However, a society largely prevailing in this mode is prone to be inefficient given the limited interdependence.

From this quadrant, the relationship in the best case scenario moves to the quadrant with High Trust – Low Distrust (2). Entities and societies in this mode are more likely to be very proficient, cohesive and with a higher quotient of well being as they are most prone to resolving conflicts arising due to trust issues[2]. With a high trust factor and a low distrust factor there is a higher likelihood of people not wanting to destroy integrity. Once that integrity is broken the relationship moves into a place which has the presence of High Distrust. It will be unfair to assume that with one instance of broken trust the relationship cascades into the least desirable quadrant of Low Trust – High Distrust (4).

Taking the case of the friend sighted above and that of professional environments, it is likely that from quadrant 2, the relationship first transgresses to High Trust – High Distrust quadrant (3). If repeated interactions lead to situations where the expected behavioral patterns are altered and/or dishonesty pursues, then the relationship is doomed for quadrant 4. In this environment interactions are fairly guarded, conversations monitored, information exchange not optimal and there are significant inefficiencies in the system.

If I take the context of the urban Indian environment today we are in the High Distrust quadrants. With the state, the relationship of the civilians is in the least desirable quadrant 4. In the case of urban middle class amongst themselves, in my view we are in quadrant 3. There are too many expectations that are laid on people in personal contexts and when these are not met with, the situation is of quadrant 4. This partly explains, in my view, the rising spousal violence, killings of employers (unorganized sector) etc. In the true professional environment money is becoming a key motivating factor and that in the environment of recession if monetary payments are not met there is severe corrosion of trust. Thus at work we are shuttling between quadrants 3 and 4. There are fewer people who trust in the “goodness” of another individual or institution.

Thus, in my view, whether we eradicate corruption or not is dependent on whether we can restore trust and eradicate distrust. If we can at least lower the prevalence of distrust, we will be able to move towards creating an environment where dishonesty is lower. Lower dishonesty will promote trust. There is a chance then that we may be able to create an environment of existence are quadrants 2 and 3. Whether, the Jan Lokpal bill, can achieve this aim, I remain skeptical! Not because of lack of trust or dominance of distrust, but because I do not believe centralization of an issue is an efficient means of arriving at a resolution.

[1] Ref: A Cognitive Theory of Trust, Hill & O’Hara

[2] Lewicki et al., A Cognitive Theory of Trust, Hill & O’Hara