A View From The Mesa: Distrust rampant in society

Last weekend, I drove up to Delano, in the Central Valley, to visit a neighbor in prison.

When I arrived, the guard told me I was dressed inappropriately and sent me out to change. If you know me, you will understand my shock. I think of myself as a modest person, and I had read the dress code. I thought I was following all the rules.

I put a sweater on over my dress to cover up my inappropriately bare arms, then went back in.

"Can you take that sweater off?" the guard asked me.

"I can," I said, "but I won't."

"Nope, you might take it off," the guard said. "You can't wear that."

He sent me out to try again. I left, wondering how could I convince him to trust me and why wouldn't he believe me.

This week, two people approached me separately about having their wages withheld.

One was working for a high-end public relations firm and the other was a day laborer from the corner of Placentia. Both are stuck in a hard place because they trusted that their employer would pay them the amount agreed upon for the work they did.

Were they foolish to have trusted the employers?

In our society, there have been some basic layers of trust. These have been in place for a long time and, some may say, are what keep us civilized.

Trust is a basic foundation for decency. In the faith tradition of which I'm familiar, principles of employment relationships, hospitality and money were laid out from the beginning.

The one I've been thinking about in the last 24 hours is, "If you hire a poor man to work for you, pay him that day."

There is trust built when we follow through on our agreements. We assume daily that we can trust certain things:

If you ask me to do a job for you, we agree on a payment. I do the job. You pay me.

If you get into my car, I drive carefully.

If you come to my home, I offer you hospitality.

If you are elected to represent the interests of my community, you look out for our safety and well-being.

These are some of the basics.

My desire was to highlight some great examples of trust in our community. I set out to hold up examples of trusting relationships that we can celebrate and replicate.

Quite frankly, I'm having a hard time finding anything. Time and time again I have run into distrusting relationships. Employees don't trust employers and vice versa.

Boards don't trust the organizational staff. Citizens don't trust their government. Teams don't trust their colleagues. Members don't trust their pastors. Anglos don't trust Latinos and vice versa. Neighbors don't trust their neighbors. It is unending.

As I reflect on whom I trust, I think of a fairly small circle of people who I know well and who know me well. I think of people who listen and show up. I think of wise, humble people.

How do we become those kinds of people? How do we build trust in our city? Does it matter?

Maybe building trust starts with taking the time to hear and getting to know one another. Maybe it takes letting down our guard enough to sit with the other for a minute.

I have to believe that there are examples of trust in our community. Where do you see it?

As I wrapped up this column I was despairing over our lack of trust. Right then a neighborhood kid showed up in my office. I hadn't seen him in about two years. He told me all about himself, catching me up on his life.

"Why would he disclose all of that?" I'm asking.

Because he trusts me. I knew it. I knew trust is out there. May you have the gift of trust today.

CRISSY BROOKS is co-founder and executive director of Mika Community Development Corp., a faith-based nonprofit in Costa Mesa, where she lives.

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