Yesterday I had the pleasure of enjoying a philosophical discussion with Mr. Leon Sexton, and during that discussion we talked about (among other things) the materials used to teach Leadership. The textbook for that course was the Speed of Trust, a work by Stepehen M.R. Covey, and a work I had never read (which I am taking care of right now, hence the existence of this post). As it happens, I am familiar with the work of the author’s father, who wrote The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, largely because I had been forced to read the book while in Inquiry Skills as a freshman in my high school’s Internatinal Bacchalaureate Program. I realize now that my disinterest in the book was not due to a fault of the book, but my own immaturity and an inabiliy to recognize its depth. The right thing at the wrong time is the wrong thing.
When I started reading The Speed of Trust, one quote in particular hit me rather hard: “The difference between a high- and low-trust relationship is palpable! Take communication. In a high-trust relationship, you can say the wrong thing, and people will still get your meaning. In a low-trust relationship, you can be very measured, even precise, and they’ll still misinterpret you .” Isn’t that the truth. The comment hit me like a 2 x 4 on the side of the head, a reminder that the trust problem has been fundamental in the course of my own life.
As I never tire of mentioning, the title of this blog is Edge Induced Cohesion. The question of cohesion, or asabiya as it was called by the North African historian Ibn Khaldun, is nothing more or less than the problem of trust. You can only have cohesion in a relationship or institution that has trust, where people know and believe that others will have their back. Without trust, we are nothing more than atomistic lonely passengers on the road to perdition. I must be candid and admit, though, that I have lived my life struggling mightily with the question of trust.
I have lived in a low-trust family, with scorekeeping and deep, dark secrets, resentful silences and hostile communications, even to the extent of verbal, physical, and other kinds of abuses. These sorts of behaviors happen in troubled families—where trust and love have broken down and the struggle for power and security replaces the mutual edification of loved ones. Who wants to live like that?
I have gone to church in low-trust churches, with open and hostile political camps, discussions of allies and enemies (easy to determine which is which, discussions I have openly and passionately participated in) with people who should all have been my brethren, my cohorts, my friends, an acted like it, but we did not. He who has broken bread with me has become my enemy, and a lack of trust is a big part of that. I have not been an innocent in these matters either.
I have gone to school in low-trust schools. As a ninth grader I received death threats for being an amorous and heartfelt poet (there are worse crimes), and instead of the people who made the threats being reprimanded, I was told not to express myself so, as if it was legitimate for someone to be offened by the love poetry of a gentle teenager. Meanwhile, my principal was “reassigned” to a different high school for falsifying the grades of a football player so that he could qualify for an “academic” scholarship, a scandal that broke as I was visiting some friends on the other side of the state for the Spring Holy Days. I was ashamed to know that I went to a school that had become a statewide scandal.
I have worked in low-trust companies, where employers engaged in surveillance of their employees instead of training and guidance, where there was useless hierarchy, a lack of communication up and down the channels, and where endless meetings sabotaged good relations between employees and bosses, who were protecting their own turf, and even suing ex-employees. Who wants to live like that?
If we want to live good lives, we have to build relationships and institutions that have trust. When a society has high trust, it does not have to protect itself and can afford to be open. To be free to love we must be free from fear. We cannot genuinely love unless we can trust others around us. And yet we should not have blind trust, but a smart trust that is born out of a careful study and examination of others to ensure that they have integrity, competence, good intents, and effectiveness. Who would not want such families, such churches, such schools, such businesses, such communities, and such societies with well-earned trust? Oh, that it were so. And yet it is our responsibility to build those institutions, so that instead of cursing the darkness we might shine a light for others to follow our godly example.
 Stephen M.R. Covey with Rebecca R. Merrill, The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything (New York, NY: The Free Press, 5-6).