David Hegg | Truth, Trust and Tolerance

David Hegg
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By David Hegg

A few weeks ago, as we were returning home to SoCal, we entered California at the Dorris, California, checkpoint. When asked if we had any produce, we indicated we had a bag of cherries purchased in Bend, Oregon. The California border agent said he needed to see them so I passed a full bag of plump, juicy cherries out the window to him. He took it, scanned the bag, and quickly announced “these are under quarantine since they were grown in Washington State.” He noticed the disgust registered on my face and tried to soften the blow by saying, “Hey, you can pull out of line and eat them here if you want, but you can’t take them into California.” 

So, we surrendered the bag and started down the freeway. It didn’t take long for me to start processing what had just happened. My first thought was that I really didn’t trust the guy. Did he just see some great cherries and decide to have them for lunch? Did they really pose a threat to California? And it also seemed strange that, if they were so harmful, how come he suggested we pull to the side and eat them? Finally, the greater scope of things hit me when my friend Chris, responding to a text detailing our loss, said, “So, thousands can flood across our southern border bringing deadly drugs but our government is neck-deep in an all-out war on cherries?” 

But I had to stop myself because I was evidencing the grave effects of a solitary death that has wreaked havoc on our nation. A plague has swept over us, and yet it had only one victim. Even so, it is hard to find someone who hasn’t been devastated by it.  

Of course, I am speaking about the death of trust. 

Like a vast and growing majority of people in our nation, we find it hard to trust. We are skeptical about government, the news media, cherry-grabbing border agents, and increasingly, one another. It seems a steady stream of lies, half-lies and half-truths spewing from those we once trusted to be good and do good has almost completely rendered our trust gene dormant. 

And this growing skepticism has even leeched into our daily lives and relationships. We all understand that trust is essential to civil society. But what we are blind to is that trust is the foundation of tolerance, and tolerance is the glue that holds a nation of multiple ethnicities and ideologies together. 

The reason we can’t tolerate those with whom we differ today is because, down deep, we don’t trust who they are. Consequently, in the death of trust, we also are experiencing the death of tolerance.  

Technically, tolerance is an attitude of putting up with those with whom we differ. Tolerance presupposes there are differences and yet, in order to get along, we tolerate our opponents as fellow human beings, Americans and neighbors. We find ways to work together for the common good while still maintaining our differences. 

But, with the death of trust, tolerance has gone from being a mature and honorable tension to being a binary state of war because trust has been evaporated from the equation. Let me explain: Historically, there have always been ethical binaries. That is, ethical pairs that were either/or. For example, something is either right or wrong, good or evil, black or white, up or down. But many ethical components are non-binary — think on a spectrum. For example, cold, cool, tepid, warm, hot. Throughout history, tolerance was non-binary. It was more needed when relating to those who differed greatly, less so with those more aligned with us.  

But, today, the ethics of tolerance have become binary, either/or, and this has eliminated the basic meaning of tolerance altogether.  

Today, love and hate are binary. If you don’t love something, if you don’t agree, don’t applaud, and don’t acknowledge ideas or behavior as ethically acceptable, then you are a hater. Consequently, there is no longer a sense of tolerance. The whole concept has been wiped from the page of society in our day. When it comes to our enemies, we don’t tolerate, we terminate.  

And why has this awful, horrible, mean streak made its way into our society? The answer is simple. We don’t trust people any more.  

So, what’s the answer? Historically, the trust that allowed for tolerance was deeper than ideologies, political desires, or ethnic differences. It was based on a shared humanity, a shared desire to thrive, to do good, and pass on an honorably legacy to the next generation. To do so, a people had to agree fundamentally on something that transcended the brokenness of this world. It had to undergird the very fiber of their lives and be so right, so intuitive, that it was as if it came pre-installed on the human hard drive. 

Apparently, our leaders of the 20th century understood this, and decided to remind us of this core ethical foundation by inscribing it on every piece of our money. They found the standard of truth, trust and tolerance when they wrote, “In God We Trust.”  

Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays. 

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