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Hear that sound? It's our trust shattering

By GREG HAMILTON
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 31, 2002

Trust is taking a beating these days.

It's human nature to want to believe that people who have assumed leadership positions in our lives have our best interests at heart. When that trust is betrayed, we feel lied to and violated.

It deepens the cynicism many people have toward authority figures in general and those who interact with our lives in particular. It sickens the soul.

While it's hardly a new phenomenon, we seem to be seeing more instances of it these days, in so many aspects of our lives.

In Houston, a major energy conglomerate weaves a complex web of deceit that steals the retirement dreams of thousands of trusting employees. The leaders who orchestrated this deception cash out for millions of dollars, while those who trusted what they were told end up with their finances and hopes dashed.

In Washington, we go from a president who wouldn't know the truth if it bit him on the butt, who lied to everyone with a wave and a smile, to one who has the gall to tell America's workers that he is making their lives better while he siphons their hard-earned money off to his billionaire buddies.

Is this really the best that our country can do?

In Tallahassee, a long-overdue examination of our state's antiquated tax structure dies at the feet of entrenched special interests. A watered-down and flawed proposal survives only when the House speaker blackmails his fellow legislators into giving him a congressional seat.

On the local level, people we trust to protect our environment sell us out to a developer, putting one person's dreams of wealth before a community's cries for preservation. At least these betrayers tell us to our faces that our opinions don't matter.

Like trusting sheep being led to slaughter, we voters blindly go along with this chicanery.

Government hardly holds the franchise on these spirit-sapping breaches of trust. A recent Citrus Times story showed how even something as wholesome as Little League baseball can be compromised.

The manager of a Crystal River team is found to have a criminal record that includes arrests for indecent exposure, drug possession, arson and insurance fraud. Some of the particulars, most notably an ongoing state investigation for fraud, surprise league officials, whose initial reaction is to downplay the arrests.

Overlooked is the fact that hundreds of parents around the county trust the league to protect their children. If the league doesn't know all about its adult volunteers, how can parents believe that their children will be safe?

Even in the area of faith, our trust is being shaken.

In recent days, Catholic clergymen from Boston to St. Petersburg have been accused of betraying the trust placed in them by their parishioners. If you think that only the Catholic Church has these problems, then you have a selective memory. From Jimmy Swaggart to Henry Lyons, from Jim Jones to Jim Bakker, religious leaders from various denominations have violated the trust of those who believed in them.

While we may have come to expect this from political leaders, somehow we want to believe that religious figures are above such deceptions. The hurt is that much deeper when the betrayal comes from someone purporting to be a servant of God.

This drumbeat of disillusionment threatens to weaken our belief in the fundamental goodness of people when all it should do is remind us that those we set up as leaders are, after all, only human.

But we can demand better. We must.

On this great day of Christian renewal, we should insist that our leaders, in all walks of life, remember the promises they have made and vow again to live up to the trust that we have bestowed upon them.

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