Restoring Trust, Restoring Hope….

“Trust men and they will be true to you; treat them greatly and they will show themselves great.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

attribution Donna CameronGeorge Shultz is not a man I ever expected to write about with any admiration. Or at all, for that matter.

Having served in both the Nixon and Reagan administrations—as Secretary of Labor, Treasury, and State—it’s safe to say that our political leanings are in opposite directions. Yet, I believe he is a man of honor, and a voice to be listened to as we seek to find light after this year of so much darkness. On more than one occasion in the last couple of years, Shultz has lamented the climate of distrust at home and abroad that the current administration has fostered, noting that it will take years to reverse.

On the occasion of his 100th birthday, which happens to be today, December 13, he wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post that is worth your attention. It’s a reminder of a time when we may not have agreed with politicians, but we could still believe that their motives were honorable and their commitment to public service genuine.

In “The 10 Most Important Things I’ve Learned About Trust Over My 100 Years,” Shultz recounts moments—some personal, some significantly political—when he saw that trust is the essential element that must be present if we humans are to accomplish great things together. As he put it, “When trust was in the room, whatever room that was—the family room, the schoolroom, the locker room, the office room, the government room or the military room—good things happened. When trust was not in the room, good things did not happen.”

Perhaps that is one explanation for the world we find ourselves in today. Trust is not in the room.

Years ago, I used to teach seminars on trust, and, like, Shultz, I saw it as the quality that must come first—in a friendship, a marriage, a business, and a community. Once trust is established, you can deal with just about anything. Trust serves as the solid foundation upon which futures are built.

In his book, The Speed of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey contends that the ability to establish, grow, extend, and restore trust is the number-one leadership competency. Where trust is low, you find hidden agendas, interpersonal conflict, win-lose thinking, and defensive communication—all of which impede progress.

Where trust is high, you find transparency, confidence, win-win thinking, effective communication … and progress. Doesn’t this explain a lot about our country today?

Covey further explains that for trust to be present, a leader must display both character—which he defines as integrity and good intent, and competence—which comprises both capabilities and results. Again, we can readily see how trust has been eroded.

How do we establish trust once it has been lost? That’s the question we are facing today. Fortunately, it’s not rocket science, but it will require effort. As individuals and as a nation, we must consistently model behaviors that generate trust:

  • Speaking the truth
  • Following through on our promises—both the big ones and the little ones
  • Showing respect for others
  • Admitting our mistakes and taking responsibility to fix them
  • Holding ourselves accountable and expecting others to do the same
  • Confronting reality—having the courage to tackle the tough issues head-on
  • Listening to one another with the desire to understand
  • Extending trust to others, while at the same time not being gullible

All of these take awareness and practice. But all are doable if we have the genuine desire to come together as a nation. There’s evidence that many Americans do not share that desire, but if enough of us do—and are willing to do the necessary work—perhaps a year from now we can look back with pride on the changes we made in 2021.

I’ll give George Shultz, on his 100th birthday, the last word:

“The best leaders trust their followers with the truth, and you know what happens as a result? Their followers trust them back. With that bond, they can do big, hard things together, changing the world for the better.”

Has America Reached Its “Pull By” Date?

“What advantage has the person who will not listen over the one who cannot hear?” (Joyce Rachelle)

Most of the people I know—including myself—consider themselves to be open-minded, fair, and objective. But how true is that . . . really? I fear that for many of us, those sterling qualities have fallen victim to our times.

A new friend recently sent me a link to this clip of Republican strategist Frank Luntz being interviewed by historian Walter Isaacson on Christiane Amanpour’s news show, Amanpour & Co. My friend said it was a fascinating discussion of our current state of toxic politics.

Republican strategist? I asked myself if I really want to listen to a Republican strategist? Was he likely to say anything that wouldn’t piss me off? Aren’t I already pissed off enough? So much for open-mindedness.

But I respect this new friend’s opinion, so I clicked the link and soon was fascinated by a discussion devoid of shouting and name-calling, and offering plenty to ponder. Continue reading

Bothered and Bewildered…

“Conquer the angry one by not getting angry; conquer the wicked by goodness; conquer the stingy by generosity, and the liar by speaking the truth.” (Gautama Buddha)


It’s summer.  I should be thinking about when blueberries will be ready for picking, peach ice cream, or the perfect beach read.  Instead, I’m pondering the difference between malice and evil, and what tips the scales from being unkind or unpleasant to being cruel, immoral, or criminal. Does someone who does rotten things have a line they will not cross? At what point do they say, “This far and no further”? And where does hate fit into all of this? Clearly, this is not a week for sunny, summer chirpiness.

Sometimes, I find myself wondering if I am impossibly deluded to believe in the power of kindness. In my heart, I know I am not, but sometimes, you gotta wonder…

Proust said “Unkind people imagine themselves to be inflicting pain on someone equally unkind.” The more I think about that quote, the more profound it seems.

I am often mystified to read or hear about deliberate and premeditated unkindness. What motivates people to act that way, and what do they tell themselves to justify their behavior?

I know that people can often act unkindly out of reflex—a response to embarrassment, or a fear of rejection.  And sometimes it’s because they are oblivious to the situation or the other person’s feelings, or perhaps their action is governed by a sense of entitlement (I deserve this and you’d better not get in my way!).

But it doesn’t seem that those conditions fully explain calculated and intentional unkindness. I want to believe that kindness is stronger that unkindness, and that kindness will (eventually) counter meanness or cruelty. But then I answer the phone and again I wonder…

Not What Alexander Graham Bell Intended…

Over the past few weeks, I’ve received several telephone calls claiming to be from Microsoft’s Windows Service Center, saying that my computer has been hacked and they just need to ask me some questions and then they can help me fix the problem. I know these calls are scams; they want to get personal information and direct me to some site that will plant a virus on my computer. Bill says just to hang up. But a couple of times, I tried to engage the caller.

“Why are you doing this?”

“Ma’am, I’m calling to help you fix your computer problem.”

“You and I both know that’s not true. Why do you do this? Is this really who you want to be?” I try to ask kindly.

At this point, they hang up on me. I wish they wouldn’t. I really would like to know. Maybe it’s the only job they could get and they are desperate for money. Maybe they really don’t understand the harm they are trying to inflict. Presumably, they just don’t care.

That brings me back to Proust. Perhaps if one assumes that all people are cruel or dishonest, they can justify their own cruelty or dishonesty.

I think most of us are the opposite. We assume people are pretty much like we are—eager to help, honest, trusting, and generally kind. And we’re always surprised to encounter people who are not.  Short of stuffing the phone down the garbage disposal (oh, so tempting!), it appears such surprises will persist.

In addition to the fake Microsoft calls, last week I had a robo-call telling me my Banner Bank credit card had been frozen for possible fraudulent activity and to “press one” to talk to a service representative who would take the information needed to “unfreeze” my card. That was another easy one: I don’t have a credit card through Banner Bank, but if I did, I hope I would have been smart enough to ignore the call.

I also had a call from a company claiming that it had been three years since they last serviced our furnace, thus it was overdue for servicing and they’d like to schedule an appointment. I happened to know the name of the company that services our furnace and this wasn’t it. I asked the caller why he was telling me we’d done business with his company when we hadn’t. Why not just tell me they do great work at reasonable prices and see if we need their services? He hung up on me. I really am curious. I imagine he gets paid—or bonused—on the basis of how many service appointments he can schedule, so he thought trickery might be more profitable than the truth. Perhaps his boss told him that people would fall for the lie. Perhaps they do.

Most troubling of all, I read this week about the growing prevalence of what is called the “Hello, Grandma” scam. This involves calling elderly people and claiming to be a grandchild in trouble and needing money to get home or get out of jail. The worried elder wires money to the scammer. The story I read described an 83-year-old woman in Colorado who was bilked of $23,000 in such a scheme, and a 93-year-old woman who lost $69,000 trying to help a fictitious grandchild.

Estimates are that elderly American’s are robbed of nearly $3 billion a year through scams such as these. They are trusting, they may be confused, they fear for the safety of a family member—they make an easy target. But, who does this sort of thing and how can they look at themselves in the mirror each day?  Where do they draw the line on their bad behavior? Do they really believe, as Proust postulates, that these trusting seniors are as unkind and dishonest as themselves?

If so, answering their unkindness with equal unkindness just reinforces their belief and justifies their unscrupulous actions. Responding with kindness may have no immediate effect, but perhaps like a stone being polished by the river, eventually it will make a difference.  Or maybe I’m just a schmuck to think so.

Perhaps it is naïve to think that dishonest or unkind people can change. I hold no illusions that kindness will transform the psychopath or sociopath. But I am enough of an optimist that I hold out hope for the fearful and angry people who simply haven’t yet learned the power of kindness.

“If a person seems wicked, do not cast him away. Awaken him with your words, elevate him with your deeds, repay his injury with your kindness. Do not cast him away; cast away his wickedness.” (Lao Tzu)