By David Hegg
While much attention is focused on America’s rising financial deficit, there may be an even more troubling social trend on the rise. According to a recent AP-GfK poll, only one-third of our neighbors think we can be trusted.
The fact that we live in an increasingly suspicious society isn’t really news to most of us. We’ve all been taken in by the half-truths and blatant untruths that regularly flow from both Madison and Pennsylvania avenues. But it seems even more insidious when we realize we have good reason not to trust the each other. Apparently, we have a pervasive problem with our individual ethics.
The research speaks to a falling off of what is termed “societal trust.” This refers to the common tendency to trust those around us to do the right thing, mean what they say, and keep their commitments. It also assumes that in a given situation, honesty will rule, and the good of the many will drive personal action. In practical terms it means we don’t have to lock our cars when we go into the store, can leave our iPad to reserve a table at Starbucks while ordering our drink, and assume that a briefcase left at the restaurant where we ate lunch will be kept safely until we return to retrieve it.
And if you winced at any of those examples, you’re probably part of the 66% who increasingly believe it is unwise to trust people.
The problems that flow from a general lack of trust are many. Without trust there can be no profitable negotiation, no assumption that directives will be carried out, and no certainty that production and efficiency will happen. Without trust there can be no true fiduciary responsibility, and every enterprise that depends on our entrusting something to them will ultimately be degraded. And it goes without saying that an erosion of common, societal trust will leave us even more isolated from one another than we already are.
In every human society relationship is essential. You can’t live without it. Yet, every healthy relationship springs from the soil of trust. Think about it. Businesses flourish because of relationships built on trust, as do sports teams and families. Marriages that provide long-term joy and safety are trust-dependent and trust-driven. It is not an overstatement to say that trust is to relationship what oxygen is to life.
Without it we die.
But if we dig down deeper we’ll find that trust is not an end in itself. It rises from something even more fundamental. Trust is the flower that grows on the stem of a radically consistent way of life. You can only trust what you can safely predict when it comes to the way another person will think and act. And this kind of consistency will be evidence that the trustworthy person has, at his or her core, an inviolable belief system composed of propositional truths to which they have made a purposeful commitment. In other words, a worldview that shapes who they are, and who you may safely trust them to be. They are people who possess, and are possessed by, conviction.
The problem we are facing is not merely a diminishing level of societal trust. It is much graver than that. What we are seeing is a pervasive dismantling of the very concepts of right and wrong. Absolute truth has suddenly become passé while pragmatism and relativism have become fashionable. But these can never provide a solid foundation for belief, much less action. And so we watch as America leaves its intellectual and ethical moorings in order to sail on the sea of individualism and tolerance run amok.
It’s time to reconsider our tendency to throw away traditional values. It’s time to reconstitute our fundamental American belief that we are one nation under God, and that God’s Word still provides the best option for creating and maintaining an ethical society that desires to be the best hope of the world. It’s time to recover our convictions. It’s time to become people our clients, neighbors and children can trust.
It’s time. Trust me.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.