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out on a limb

Volume 15/Issue 21

Trust...and I'm not talking just about "in God" here

Trust is such a fragile thing, es pecially in our community. We seem to expect it to be developed because, after all, aren't we all in this together-a minority group fighting for our rights against tremendous odds?

So how do we "make" trust-between one another, amongst one another? How do we earn trust between lesbians and gay men, between brothers and sisters, between you and me?

How do we separate the truth from the fictions, the lovers from the exs, the good from the bad? Why do people break our trust? How do you mend it?

I don't know about you, but to me, trust is the core of what makes walking through this very scary world possible. I trust that I am able to live each day as a capable, successful, productive human being. I trust that I can defend myself...or at least that the laws will work long enough for me to get home at night. I trust my doctor when he tells me to increase or decrease my medicine. I trust the guy in the intersection to obey the stop sign. I trust that my friends will tell me the truth.

Alert! Alert! Alert! There are no guarantees in truth in lending rules to protect me from bad oracle to whisper "good idea/bad idea" in my ear when I am contemplating a decision. I can trust my dog. She's always happy to see me and she waits for me to come home every day-even if there is no water in the dish.

So what's this rampage on trust all about? Well, it's actually about the opposite of trust. It's about lying, even when the truth would do, to protect personal gain, to protect hide things from people who are just trying their best to make a go of it. It's about deception and how it sickens a community. It's about's about rigged's about frustration.

Now I could list a thousand things that have happened that might fall into this category: personal disappointments, community disagreements, hurt feelings, ruined lives. I could write about the quarreling that goes on between factions. I could write about power and who has it. I could write about good people who don't.

Instead, let me tell you a little story about trust, and you can use it as an allegory in any way you choose.

When I taught at the University of Minnesota, I was a member of the Women's Studies Department. The faculty was small, but the student interest was large. Classes were filled to capacity... and there was little money to support the programs.

The office was run by one administrative assistant. Her name was Liya. Liya was a strong, educated, capable woman of color. She was a single mom with a severely retarded 12 year-old daughter. She arrived every day at 7:30am and left each night at 6pm. She was dedicated, compassionate, always available for that piece of advice.

But one day, a faculty member did the unthinkable. She accused Liya of stealing a roll of stamps. A ridiculous $32.00 roll of stamps. The accusation escalated into larger issues. Maybe it wasn't just stamps. Maybe it was funds from the department accounts...maybe it was copies from the copier...maybe it was petty cash from the money box.

Now Liya had worked in the department for over 5 years. She was a vested employee in the University system. She took advantage of the free tuition for employees program. She attended every function the department held. She even bought the crusty cookies they served at discussion groups. So what was this about stamps?

Ever watch a snowball roll down hill? It grows and grows until it crashes against a rock. I had actually considered buying a roll of stamps and putting them on the faculty member's desk. But I wasn't powerful enough to stem the tide of mistrust and suspicion that grew.

The faculty member had the power. She was able to influence opinion. Liya was fired. She sued the University. She claimed that the faculty member had cursed her, called her names. Other faculty members got involved. The department was divided. The University ruled in the faculty member's favor. The Women's Studies Department was without any leadership for over a year while it fought the battles of loss of trust. The students took the side of the less powerful. They staged a protest. The University wanted to hush it all up, so they offered Liya a job in another department. But why on earth would Liya trust the University to look out for her best interests?

I even heard stories about people voting on whether Liya should be rehired. She won...but her supporters were accused of voter malfeasance. The faculty member took early retirement and moved to Santa Fe. Before she left, they awarded her a lifetime achievement award in her field...history. No one knows who voted for that.

I left Minnesota with two arm-loads of broken trust and unkept promises. I stopped believing in anything fair. I looked suspiciously upon small groups who pretended to keep things open and honest. I looked for how things were stacked against the outsiders. And everywhere I looked there were inner circles.

The most threatening enemy of trust is rule by the few. If trust is to be earned, things must really be open and above-board, like, who votes for things and who cheats; like, why the same people win every time; like, why rules and bylaws are made only to be cast aside or broken if they don't suit those in power. Thank God we don't use the guillotine anymore. Beheading one's enemies or extra wives was effective, but it didn't breed trust.

So out of the allegory and into real life-our community must build bridges of trust between and among ourselves. We need to open our hearts and our ears to the thoughts of others. We need to establish true alliances between individuals, groups, political organizations. We cannot let the power to make decisions rest in the hands of the few. We need to all grab hold of where our community is going and what it wants to establish and accomplish.


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