By Rick Larsen
Published on May 6, 2018

Originally published by the Deseret News.

Trust seems to be going out of style like a fashion craze that no longer suits us. We are phasing out trust in our institutions, the media and even among each other. If trust were the equivalent of Crocs or Dr. Martens, we could just write the trend off to evolving culture — or the search for a more comfortable shoe.

But this is not about comfort, style or trend — this is about an underpinning of our democracy. We are toying with the relevance of a founding virtue.

Is trust really going away? If so, why? And what happens to families, communities — and the nation — if the trend continues?

Yes, it’s true (if you can believe the statistics) — trust is in trouble. For the most part, we still embrace the declaration memorialized on currency — “In God We Trust” — but we no longer seem to trust ourselves. Only a third of Americans trust government; less than half of us trust the media and corporations; and even nonprofits are significantly less trusted than they were a decade ago.

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Which gets us to the “why.” Well, who can blame us? After all, it was not “we the people” who created gridlock, partisanship, fake news and CEO scandals. And how can we trust people who are comfortably and intentionally lying, like the look-into-the-camera-and-lie politicians?

Maybe we are just worn down. Perhaps this is what happens when the nightly news uses the phrase “a casual association with the truth” and then refers to our president in the same sentence. But we should recognize that it goes much deeper. This did not just happen to us.Dishonesty has always been in the human toolbox, but in the past, it was treated differently — it was far less acceptable. And when it comes to those bald-faced lying politicians — well, we elected them. And then we re-elect them, more often than not.

Which comes to the final point: What will happen if trust and honesty — those inseparably linked concepts — go away? Reason says that abandoning bedrock principles will change the fabric of our society. Let’s think it through and decide if honesty and its trusty sidekick — “trust” — are worth saving.

In any relationship — from personal to professional — when trust is absent, every opinion, statement and motive is considered suspect. Benefit of the doubt goes away. We assume the worst and act defensively. In this cycle, solving problems becomes impossible.

Or the inverse can also be true — something I learned in post-tsunami Thailand.

In 2004, on assignment by a generous donor, I spent a great deal of time traveling to Thailand. I became acquainted with the prevalence of bribery among government and law enforcement, which is common around the world — especially in times of crisis, when both giving and vulnerability are at high levels.

I became so conditioned to paying a “fee” — to get my baggage at the airport, to make sure my hotel room was protected, to secure concessions from local government to rebuild housing — that my own paradigm had changed — and I had barely even noticed.

It was not until I sat down with a Buddhist monk, who was sacrificing all he had to care for displaced families, that I was brought back to my senses. In arranging for his followers to participate in rebuilding a village, I automatically asked him a question I had been conditioned to ask: “What we would need to ‘pay’ the monastery for their support and cooperation?” The look on the face of this guileless man cut me to the core. I instantly wished I could take the question back and undo the insult to his faith and integrity. I wished I had not bought into the idea that the entire country operated on this form of dishonest barter. I wished I could tell him that I agreed with his ethics — I would not have asked for a bribe either — he and I were of the same mind and heart!

After an awkward attempt at recovery and thinking the damage was already done, I tried to end the meeting but before I was allowed to leave, he did the most extraordinary thing — he gave me a gift. Yes, in the face of my unintended but real insult, he gave me a gift. It was a small gift, insignificant by most standards, but I have it to this day.

By the way, the village was indeed rebuilt with the support of the Buddhist monk.

And the lesson I learned was this: To be trusted, we must trust. Even when everything around us tells us not to.

Not every politician is crooked, not every news organization is lying — and we have the ability to see the difference and vote with our feet when we perceive corruption. This personal approach will work. Giving in to a new reality — devoid of trust — will not.

Honesty — one of our founding virtues — and a corresponding trust in each other cannot be addressed by legislation, intervention or decree. This is a personal matter — a choice to be made by each of us and taught in every home. These are traits we must decide to demand of ourselves and those we elect. We must choose to opt out of dishonest discourse. And here is a challenge — even when being dealt with unfairly we can take a more elevated course by not responding in kind. Rudyard Kipling beautifully sketched this concept when he wrote; “If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you but make allowance for their doubting too; If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, or being lied about, don’t deal in lies, or being hated, don’t give way to hating.”

The Judeo-Christian value of turning the other cheek, and the promised joy that comes from such trust, has lost its place in society and certainly in politics. A candidate expressing such a view would be soundly rejected by strident voters today — branded as lacking in will and leadership. Perhaps we should reconsider the rationality of such judgment, if our real goal is to have thriving, happy, trusting communities.

Rick Larsen came to Sutherland with more than 30 years of experience in media, management and the nonprofit sector. He was chief development officer for United Way of Salt Lake before taking a development and communications role at Sutherland. He spent a decade in the entertainment industry creating funding and content for family films, television and events. As a consultant, he provided strategic guidance to a wide range of endeavors including ballot initiatives, gubernatorial campaigns, nonprofits, and for-profit organizations interested in more effective philanthropy.

As president of Operation Kids, he saw firsthand many of humankind’s most pressing needs. From post-Katrina New Orleans to South African refugee camps to post-tsunami Thailand, he traveled and worked between state and federal agencies as well as community organizations, and came to understand the powerful connection between principled public policy and its resulting social outcomes.

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