Larry Piekarz and I share a high level of trust. He will tell me the good, the bad and the ugly about what is going on at The Park and will trust that when he says “this is off the record” that I won’t include it in the article.
He trusts that even when he doesn’t say “off the record,” I will use my judgment about what to write and what to leave out. Every time I email him about setting up an interview, he gets right back to me. In fact, when I interviewed him for the article about the results of the survey, he brought along Commissioner Roy Sansone and both of them were very open about what the survey revealed.
The same has been true with the Forest Park Police Department. Chief Ryan and now Chief Aftanas were and are not only very responsive but also quite open about what is going on with Forest Park’s finest.
Some organizations in town cultivate trust and openness. Some do not. Some are transparent and some opaque. From my point of view as a journalist, some have good reason to be defensive, and some can’t let go of the past. But frankly, those who are unresponsive make me wonder what they are hiding.
Trust is a valuable thing if you are a reporter. If you don’t have it, people won’t talk to you. So I work hard to not only be fair but also to admit that I’ve screwed up whenever I have made a mistake and then do what I can to make amends. It hasn’t happened often, but one time it happened with one of my best friends. It took a while to regain his trust.
Trust is a precious commodity. It’s true in marriages, AA groups, business relationships, pastor-parishioner interactions, condo associations, and citizens with their elected officials.
I can think of three reasons why trust breaks down. One is that someone betrays a trust. That happened with me and my friend. I had to work hard to repair the damage. The Catholic Church is now trying to win back those who once entrusted their kids to the safety of the church and were betrayed. Bernie Sanders on the political left and Donald Trump on the “wherever it is he’s coming from” are responding to a mood of anger and a feeling of betrayal among the electorate.
A second reason trust breaks down is that people might have been betrayed in the past, can’t let go of that feeling of betrayal and therefore won’t allow themselves to trust ever again. Every once in a while I hear divorced women say that all men are jerks, when what happened is that one man was a jerk but an entire gender is getting blamed.
Some people are still fighting the Civil War which, according to my calculation, ended 151 years ago. Some folks want to ship all Muslims back to the Middle East, even if they were born in the U.S. and served honorably in Iraq, because a few crazy Islamists did the same thing that a crazy white “Christian” did in Charleston. And some won’t respond to my requests for an interview because of what one editor did to them 10 years ago.
Thirdly, some people get caught and just can’t admit that they’ve screwed up. I’ve written some pieces that have exposed some dirty laundry, and the people who have failed to put it in the washing machine where it belongs have blamed me for messing in their business instead of cleaning up their act.
On the one hand, trust is absent because a trust has been betrayed. On the other hand, trust is missing because some folks find it hard to be trusting. Trust is really important. To build it and maintain it, both parties in a relationship need to work at it.
Trust is a risk. There is no way to guarantee that vulnerability on your part won’t be taken advantage of by the person you take the risk of trusting. That’s one reason newspapers are important. Without the media breaking the story about child abuse and the cover ups in the Catholic Church, the betrayal of trust might still be going on.
It goes the other way, of course. Reporters can be provocative, selective, dishonest, lazy and on and on. That’s one reason my name appears on the byline of every story I write. Believe me, when I’m tempted to avoid checking out a fact or listening to all sides in a conflict, I remember that, right under the headline, my name will appear and sometimes my picture, too. You talk about feeling both vulnerable and accountable!
Trust is precious. When it’s in place, a church, a condo association, a business, a newspaper, a village, a state and a nation all work better. All of us are tempted to betray trust at times or not to take the risk of trusting at others. That’s why it’s important to regularly remind ourselves of how important it is.