Trustworthiness and dependability are usually thought of as admirable aspects of personal character. But as we witness the continuing deterioration of social order it becomes increasingly clear that these priceless attributes are pillars of civilization.
Fear of crime or violence will cripple any society, but the greatest insecurity comes with the loss of trust between friends or neighbors or fellow workers – those we depend on and thought we understood.
Have we found ourselves unexpectedly questioning whether someone we trusted is actually who we thought they were? When such questions arise, how can we be sure? How does one keep body and soul together? It is hard to recover.
Distrust makes the world precarious. Uncertainties spread; confidence vanishes.
Things fall apart.
Businesses are particularly vulnerable to loss of trust. Without dependability in governance and consistency in economic policy businesses are hobbled by unpredictability. Business owners cannot plan. And a market economy abhors uncertainty.
This is not the way any of us wish to live our lives. If constant uncertainty makes things feel out of control, it can get scary.
What can we do as responsible people when we live in a society dominated by distrust and a general lack of personal integrity?
The benefits can be great when we choose to be trustworthy ourselves – in spite of everything. We can be consciously determined to demonstrate what moral integrity means. But this is not easy. If America is to turn the corner it will take time and extraordinary patience.
We will have to keep the necessity of dependability in focus at all times.
Nothing will change unless we establish the effectiveness of trustworthiness to those around us and draw attention to its’ value.
In so doing, it will be important that we not fool ourselves into imagining that we are better than others who are failing to meet our standards. Moral pride can be obvious, and it will push people away.
How can we assist others to understand and value integrity? Self-righteousness fails to acknowledge that everyone has the capacity to recognize their mistakes. So, if we would help America move on to a better future we need to be self-disciplined in our contacts and relationships. Kindness attracts; arrogance offends.
“Moral pride,” wrote Reinhold Niebuhr, “is revealed in all ‘self-righteous’ judgments in which the other is condemned because he fails to conform to the highly arbitrary standards of the self. Since the self judges itself by its own standards it finds itself good. It judges others by its own standards and finds them evil when their standards fail to conform to its own. This is the secret of the relationship between cruelty and self-righteousness.” (The Nature and Destiny of Man, Vol. I, p. 199.)
Readers who profess their belief in the Christian Faith may recall the admonition of St. Paul when he wrote: “For wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things….” (Romans 2:1)
Those of other faiths, or those who do not consider themselves religious, will never-the-less recognize this compelling logic.
Integrity is a personal choice. We must never assume that others are incapable of cleaning up their act. It is an intrinsic capacity we are given at birth.
A word of warning before we finish: When we recognize a consistent pattern of dishonesty and deceptiveness, it can become necessary to distance ourselves from it. Such destructiveness permeates and subverts everything around it.
We must be practical, but also ready, if possible, to care for people who are troubled in this way. The greatest forgiveness is the least deserved.
However, forgiveness and trust are two entirely different things. Once trust is lost, it can be very difficult to recover.
So it is that the restoration of trust and dependability in all our endeavors must be championed by every American as we enter a new day.
Without trust the future is lost.
A note to readers: This blog posts regularly. The next post is due on or about January 31. However, it will be less predictable than usual as I will be traveling.
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amen to that, tom!