A Princeton University professor says the key to companies and institutions restoring public trust may lie in a sometimes-overlooked source – the wisdom of the Bible.
David W. Miller, director of the Princeton University Faith & Work Initiative, released a white paper this month declaring that “religious traditions have amassed extraordinary wisdom and learning about human nature, brokenness, and healing” that can be instrumental in helping institutions restore public trust. The paper focused on the Abrahamic faith.
This year’s Edelman Trust Barometer, which surveys worldwide attitudes about public trust, found that “none of the four societal institutions” it measured – business, government, media and NGOs (non-governmental organisations) – are trusted.
“One thing that religion tends to do really well is to think about and help heal brokenness. There’s sort of a common theme that humanity is not perfect, and that we’re broken and we make mistakes,” Miller told Christian Headlines.
“Maybe the corporate world can look at it afresh. Maybe we should pause and say, ‘Is there any wisdom, insights or lessons from these wisdom traditions?’ These ideas are relevant today – and not just for Sunday worship hour or Saturday synagogue. They can make a difference.”
The white paper, co-authored with Miller’s colleague Michael J. Thate, includes interviews with a “diverse group of scholars from a range of religious traditions” from around the world about “the restoration of trust.”
Miller presented the paper this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, during a roundtable meeting for executives and civil society leaders.
“Can a company restore trust with its customers, regulators, and other stakeholders – especially if the organisation has a checkered history that is etched in people’s minds and experiences?” they ask in the white paper. “Companies often turn to lawyers, lobbyists, public relations personnel, crisis managers, social media experts, and other such specialists to try to clean up their reputation and restore trust.”
But the public nevertheless remains skeptical, the paper notes.
“Perhaps it is time to consider other resources to help restore a broken trust with an institution’s primary stakeholders. In this reflection, we turn to a rich source of ideas and wisdom to help us consider fresh ways forward. Namely, we consider the resources that exist in various religious traditions. Many religions accent and place a premium on healing broken relationships between individuals and within their communities.”
The paper considers: “What can we learn from these ancient sources of wisdom that might help contemporary companies heal when they have injured and lost the trust of their customers, regulators, and other key stakeholders?”
Miller and Thate offer 11 theses in their paper for companies to consider. Among them: the need for humility (found in the third thesis).
“Each of the Abrahamic traditions speaks of the need for a humbling moment within the redemptive arc of the individual and institution,” it says before quoting James 4:10: “Humble yourself in the presence of the Lord. And the Lord will restore you.”
“The institution needs to linger in its humbling moment longer than it may wish if it sincerely desires restoration in the eyes of the general public,” the paper says.