By Frank J. Rich
The idea of accepting what others do because we trust them is both an opportunity and a concern to most. Trust, as we know it, suggests as much. That is, that we accept what another may do or say because we believe his intentions are good, or in our best interest. It’s the basis for a marriage union; indeed, for all personal relationships, even those at work and with all stakeholders—co-workers, vendors, and customers alike. The view is so telling of the desire for our institutions and their leaders that none would admit an untrusting spirit, only the fault they find in others for their lack of it. But after all is said about trust and agreed to, few choose it over the skepticism that requires proof of another’s trustworthiness.
The recent deflating of the trust balloon at the hands of corporate America, no less government, recommits us to the skepticism that cautions trust—a fair conclusion. An equally sanguine approach—the commitment to trust in all its incarnations—establishing, growing, extending, and restoring trust, wrestles for share of mind and heart. We know that the vicissitudes of life can sap our faith in things—even God’s own can waver. But if we are to build anything together, it requires that we learn to trust and that “societies” in pursuit of something must learn most how to restore trust, because people disappoint.
It is said that character is easier kept than recovered. For there to be the public trust we need to produce the best from our institutions—public and private—we must look first within. Expecting from others what we have not performed divides the heart in them. An old song says it best: “Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.”
Just how does trust operate in our lives, at work? Not coincidentally, “… it begins with each of us, continues through our relationships, expands into our organizations, extends into the market, and ultimately affects an entire society. This is the essential nature of an “inside-out” approach to all things. It begins with us, and then—through trust—extends to others,” as told by Stephen Covey, Jr.
Does anyone really believe that life is a function of what others, indeed the world, does? Perhaps, some do, like the principal character in the book “Tropic of Capricorn.” Who is this character (a little bit of us) and what is he searching after (identity and meaning)?
Our journey to the depths of trust begins with self-trust. It’s where we learn the foundational principle that informs trust at all levels—credibility or believability. It’s where we ask ourselves, Am I someone people can trust? Am I credible?
To build such a foundation requires personal energy, simply the desire and discipline to act on our beliefs. But, sometimes a man can meet his destiny on the road he took to avoid it. We all find ourselves in shoes that don’t fit. When we do, we must find the energy to recover, to form the character that overcomes our indiscretions and propels us on the path to productivity and fulfillment. We start here and then form a collective mind with others who value the same things. Virtually every organization, no less government in its constitutional principles, positions values and beliefs as key to the forming of this collective mind. This is not the “hocus-pocus” of the cultish, nor is it the religiosity that trades reason for fealty. No, it is simply the gathering of like-minded peoples to accomplish the “greater good”—a society in some form—either business, charity and public works, or government.
After giving a speech to a hostile audience in the House of Commons, Mahatma Gandhi received a standing ovation. “How could he have mesmerized his audience for such a long time with no notes?” reporters asked.
The response: What Gandhi thinks, what he feels, what he says, and what he does are all the same. He does not need notes … you and I, we think one thing, feel another, say a third, and do a fourth, so we need notes and files to keep track.
Gandhi was not only one with himself; he was one with his principles. And his principles were deeply rooted and governed his life.
My life, he said, is an indivisible whole, and all my activities run into one another … my life is my message.
In his impactful book, “Life is Tremendous,” Charlie “Tremendous” Jones, set it out simply. He recommended that to really succeed at anything (in life) we must do just three things:
- Make a decision.
- Make it our own.
- And, die (live) by it.
Public trust is no mean task; it requires much of us. It requires not only that we become one with our principles, but also grow humility and courage.
In his research for the book, “Good to Great,” Jim Collins discovered two very surprising things (to him). The first was that all the “good-to-great companies” had “level 5 leadership” during the transition. This is “… a rare blend of genuine personal humility and intense professional will.” The second was a “self-effacing, quiet, reserved, even shy demeanor—more like Lincoln and Socrates than Patton and Caesar.”
Love is born in us, but courage is life’s greatest lesson. The integrity that fuels trust must contain an ample measure of courage … to do “what’s right” not just the right thing, when it’s hardest to do.