Several of the American founders warned us that self-government depends on citizens governing their own behavior. Among them, Patrick Henry, George Washington and James Madison all emphasized the importance of virtue. I have observed here that truthfulness is the most important of the virtues because all the others depend upon it. And trustworthiness is the sister of truthfulness. Human civilization cannot survive without them.
How can we rebuild a foundation of trustworthiness in America?
Well, this is after all a personal responsibility. We cannot control anyone’s behavior but our own. Like morality, trustworthiness is only possible with free-will. It is a choice.
Sometimes I wonder how many of us truly understand the necessity for trustworthiness in a world worth living in.
Each of us is in a position to build trustworthiness with our families and in our communities, even if all the rest of the world succumbs to disunity and degradation. Trust becomes possible through genuine, unpretentious engagement—honest interpersonal relationships. And yet many of us are possessed by the illusion that trusting relationships are impossible with people we disagree with. This is a problem.
Trust grows through the experience of good will, dependability and patient kindness. It has nothing to do with opinion. We can begin to experience dependability in working relationships. And when we get to know people through experience, we discover who they really are and put aside our imagination.
Authentic relationships depend on authentic dialogue. And in the dysfunctional society we live in today true dialogue is rarely tolerated. Conversations between disinterested or self-indulgent individuals are little more than disconnected monologues.
We cannot understand each other when we fail to listen with the intention of understanding.
Americans have always been a contentious lot. Yet, we enjoy one another while watching professional sports together over beer and pizza. Some of us have experienced the absolute trust required in the military. Certainly, soldiers do not agree on everything under the sun. But they do not question the necessity for trust.
The time will come, as society continues to break down, when personal comfort and possibly even survival itself will depend on trustworthy neighbors.
Can we see that the world is coming apart? There is no longer time for foolishness. Cooperation is becoming necessary to resolve local problems and meet shared needs. An inability to engage as neighbors and fellow-citizens committed to dependability, will become increasingly dangerous.
In the last post I wrote about the means for decision-making in communities and small groups where substantial differences exist. A regular reader on the Facebook page commented: “You are right, but given everything that has happened in the past and is happening today, this is a tough elephant pill to swallow.”
I responded to her: “Hi Caroline. Do you think we have a choice? We are facing a major transition. In my view, a small number of determined Americans can form communities among themselves, and new people can be added gradually–if they are ready to adopt a realistic perspective and discipline. I think you know what I mean: Trustworthiness, dependability, a respectful attitude and the acceptance of differences. You need only to find a few to initiate dialog and begin to sow the seeds. This can take place in scattered locations across the country–wherever good will and rationality survive.”
Engaging with the people around us can be challenging. But we need not convince them of anything politically or philosophically. We only need to win them over as good neighbors, with kindheartedness and determination.
You may watch for the next post on or about November 2.