It’s easy to underestimate the value of trust in my daily life. For example, I generally feel secure in the quality of the food I buy. This relieves me from a huge amount of worry and second-guessing when I sit down for a meal. I trust that those who produce and package my food take necessary precautions to keep me healthy. Sure, this trust is occasionally called into question by occasional salmonella outbreaks. But even food recalls ultimately reinforce the sense that I can trust food producers with my safety; if there is a problem, they take measures to correct it.
Because I can trust others, I generally don’t sweat every detail of life. I am able to focus on my most important tasks, rather than worrying about whether the mechanics did an adequate job repairing my car, or whether the mail will arrive on time and in good condition. Because I trust my mechanic and the postal service. Because I trust them to do their jobs to the best of their ability, I can do mine.
But what happens when trust breaks down? How will it affect me if I no longer feel confident in the safety of the food I buy at the grocery store, or the quality work of my mechanic or postal delivery? I’ll worry more, for one thing. If I can afford it, I’ll probably also pay extra for assurance that those I depend on will come through for me, if only out of a sheer profit motive. A world without trust is one filled with contracts and lawsuits, high fees and deposits; it is a world of constant stress and second-guessing.
As a result of this vicious atmosphere, the federal government has been largely paralyzed, the essential business of the people left undone. The health of the whole nation has been negatively impacted, from the pay rates of public workers to the vital services that millions of citizens have come to count on. In the absence of trust, compromise seems unlikely. After all, how do we know that the other side will not use today’s deal to take advantage of us tomorrow?We can see signs of this disordered, stressful world in the dynamics of the US federal government. Compromise is almost unheard of. Highly polarized interests vie for the slightest edge, and to keep legislation advocated by the other side from passing. Law-making has become more like a war between opposing factions than a cooperative exchange in the interest of good government.
The longer this goes on, the less trust that the average American feels toward big government and big business alike. Rather than conceiving of ourselves as participating in a cause larger than ourselves, we begin to sense that the whole game is stacked against ordinary folks. In such an environment, we may each scurry to defend our own personal interests, fearful that if we do not watch out for ourselves, no one else will! The end result is a nation of individuals, separated from one another by distrust and naked self-interest that ultimately impoverishes us all.
I have watched this problem grow over the course of my lifetime, and I feel very concerned about my country’s growing lack of trust and caustic bitterness in the civic life. I cannot help but wonder where this all is leading. For the sake of the common welfare, I am eager to find ways to restore our willingness to work together, even when we disagree sharply. Yet, with so much damage already done to our cultural commons, how can we find a way forward?
As a person who is attempting to follow Jesus in my own life, I know that there is a source of trust available to me that no human being can take away. Even when I doubt the reliability of other people, I can feel confident that God is trustworthy; his Holy Spirit will guide me and sustain me. Even when the government is going haywire, ground to a halt by competitions between powerful interests, I can have confidence that the Lord of history is in control.
Even when my society seems to be in utter disarray, I can trust that the power of God is over all of it. Even in this present darkness, I can feel confidence that Jesus has already conquered the world. It is in this confidence that Jesus gives me the freedom to continue revealing his love, abiding in his peace, and extending trust to those who might very well hurt me.
Living in a world that gives us many reasons to doubt and fear, what does it take for us to embrace the deep reservoir of faith, hope and love that we find in the continuing presence of the Holy Spirit?
Here are a couple of worthwhile articles that got me thinking more about the issue of trust:
Mr. Money Mustache looks at the problem from a personal perspective, encouraging his readers to embrace a lifestyle of trust and generosity.
Joseph E. Stiglitz examines the issue from a more government-centered viewpoint, arguing that only greater public intervention in controlling the excesses of monied interests can address the growing lack of trust in our society.