Trust is the fine china of human relations: it enhances whatever entree it holds, it’s worth far more than the meal itself, and it’s awfully difficult to repair once it’s been damaged.
Over the past several weeks, community trust has taken a hit during the discussion about whether to allow the consumption of alcohol on public property-and not in the way some members of the public have suggested.
Trust is damaged not by the expression of bad ideas-which is how we characterized the city council’s interest in such a proposal-but in the quick assumption of bad motives. Having observed this council for a couple of years, we do not question its motivation for exploring this issue.
But after reading and listening to the public discussion-in both public and private forums-we wish we were as confident about the motives of some of our fellow citizens. Aside from the honest disagreement over the idea itself-which is a desirable and healthy dialogue to have-aspects of the local “discussion” have been downright disappointing, and speak to deeper problems in the way we talk to-and about-each other.
First, trust is damaged when we project the worst of motives and behavior onto those with whom we disagree-and then attack their character. A former employer once told me, “People who are quick to accuse people of wrong behavior usually are the ones most likely do that same thing themselves.” In other words, a person’s self-understanding colors his or her understanding of others. Even children grasp that concept: “When you point a finger at someone else, you’ve got three fingers pointing back at you!”
Second, trust is damaged when people disseminate “facts” without checking with those who are actually involved in the situation. In this case, erroneous conclusions have led to disparaging comments about at least one city employee and one elected official who, as far as we have been able to determine, had nothing to do with the proposal or its discussion. The error could have been cleared up if anyone had bothered to check with the city administrator or members of the council-before spouting off.
Finally, trust takes a hit when people reach the conclusions they want to reach regardless of the facts: “I already know the way things are; don’t confuse me with what really happened.” This is the most frustrating scenario of all because nothing based in reality or logic will soften a mind that’s already set in concrete. In such situations, people tend to reshape the truth to fit their preconceived notion instead of letting their preconceived notion be reshaped by the truth.
All of us step into these potholes once in a while. When we do, we ought to apologize for our misstep and vow to walk more carefully in the future. Ultimately, that’s how trust is restored. -DR