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Do you trust others? Do others trust you?

Scientific studies (and even more daily life!) demonstrate how a high level of sociability is a social need.

Momo — More Monitoring Action in the EU

For us, human beings with opposable thumbs, refined sociability is an evolutionary advantage that has enabled the survival and success of our species on this planet. That is why we cannot permit corruption to break it.


An African proverb says ‘It takes a village to raise a child’: we need a dense network of relationships in order to survive and acquire the skills that allow us to become autonomous and take care of ourselves.

Even in our contemporary complex societies, we are highly interdependent on each other: we need to rely on others, expecting that others will carry out the tasks they have been assigned (due to their skills, experience, or wisdom) to their full capabilities and for the general good of public interest. 

In other words: we must trust others, even when we have never met them before. This represents the basic pillar on which our society is built.


Definition box

Social trust is the capacity that allows us to build and establish healthy relationships with others. It can be understood as a generalised expectation that the promises of an individual or group will be fulfilled in a society. It involves assuming an unwritten pact of cooperation towards a common goal of personal and collective well-being, since we interact with other people assuming that they do not represent a danger to us. Social trust is often based on the exchange of gifts, courtesies, and favours even of purely symbolic value. The motivations for these exchanges must be known and recognised to us in our daily lives, to be able to discern different situations (including inappropriate ones).

Questions for reflection


Public services (public transport or public health): you have to trust other people, even when your own safety and life depend on their skills. In the case of public transport, for instance, you trust the drivers without knowing them, even though they are strangers to you. In the case of public health, again, you trust that the doctors will advise you on what is best for your health.

François has just been taken on as an apprentice in a marketing company. In the same team, Marie, another apprentice hired before him, is well-liked by all colleagues and praised by the managers for her commitment and the quality of her work. François decides to invite Marie to have some drinks after work and pays the bill for both of them at the end of the evening. Has François offered Marie the cocktails out of chivalry and kindness or is he relying on a future return of his act?


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A small revealing linguistic curiosity

In a French expression, people asking for a favour say that they will feel “obliged” towards the person from whom the favour is asked, for example: “Vous m’obligeriez si vous vous occupiez de mon dossier” (English: You would oblige me, if you could take care of my file). 

In Portuguese in order to say “thank you”, you say “obrigado”, which means obliged, bound, compelled.

In old fashioned English, you say “much obliged” in order to thank someone for having done something for you. 

Did you know this?

Gift exchange and social obligation in the Nordic countries

Exchanging gifts is not essential for building social bonds. In Scandinavian countries, and especially in Norway, people seem to be less inclined to owe anything to anyone, or have anyone owing them something, and prefer being independent from bonds based on exchange of gifts and favours. Instead, they often build social trust by different means: nurturing relationships through shared activities in clubs and organisations. They socialise by sharing a common purpose for months and years and then can they invite you outside this social “bubble”.

What do you think about this way of making friends?