When our oldest daughter was about six months old, her first word was not mama or dada. It was “hi.” Not only did she know how to say it she seemed to sort of know when to say it. It was sort of extraordinary actually and it was kind of cute. But then it also became annoying because she would say it all day long every time a physical person crossed her line of vision.
I would often marvel how this young baby child was born with an innate sense of wanting to engage with people. Of course, she was still unconditioned by her parents and society where she would ultimately learn that her first reaction should be to be wary of people she didn’t know.
It didn’t always used to be that way. In the old days, things seemed simpler and it was a lot easier to trust people. I had forgotten about a personal allegory until my brother was giving a toast at my wedding. It happened probably about 12 years earlier. I was 18, my brother 17. We passed a guy on the side of the road with a blown-out tire. He looked desperate. We stopped.
He was a middle aged white guy with a clunker car who seemed down on his luck. There didn’t seem to be much we could do to help. He didn’t have much of a plan and either did we. After some conversation, he decided he could walk to a pay phone and call for a ride. But he didn’t have any money and that didn’t solve the car problem. After a minute, I gave him a $20 bill and my AAA card provided to me by my Dad in case anything like that ever happened to me.
The gentleman was extremely grateful. He took my address and agreed to mail me back the money and the AAA. I was more worried about the latter not fully understanding what a AAA card was all about. My brother correctly pointed out this this seemed like a bad idea and that our dad was not going to be happy. He didn’t think the guy would mail anything back and frankly I wasn’t quite sure about it either.
About two weeks later, an envelope arrived with three beat up $5 bills and five singles and the AAA card along with a grammatically challenged but sincere letter of thanks. Apparently, the episode made an impression on my younger brother who took it as a lesson in the transformational power of being able to trust those we don’t know.
The whole paradigm of trust has shifted, in my view, in the wrong direction. In politics, Ronald’s Reagan’s “trust but verify” has turned into a zero-sum game. In society, what was once a natural inclination to trust has been destroyed by scandals, abuse and entitlement.
I was invited last month to Kirk in the Hills for a presentation by Dr. Gregory Ellison, author of “Fearless Dialogues.” In his book and presentation, Dr. Ellison reminds us that welcoming strangers to our midst is not always easy. Yet, Jesus calls us to welcome strangers as surely as we would welcome him. Dr. Ellison writes that when we do not see and hear each other as persons of worth, we are unable to collaborate and work toward the change that may be necessary.
That seems to be a great place to start—to begin to see every person as a person with worth. This is not a grand or massive requirement. It can be a series of daily and weekly little things as opportunities to connect with and trust people present themselves.
In our youthful vigor, my brother and I tried to get outside our comfort zone to help a stranger. But by keeping his word and showing us his genuine goodness, the stranger became a blessing to us--even though on the surface it may have been seen the other way around. We trusted him and he didn’t violate that trust, teaching us a valuable lesson at a young age--that people are inherently good.
Just as a little baby is born with an innate sense of trust and belonging, our willingness to see people as brothers and sisters may be a blessing in reverse--one that comes back tenfold. Therein lies the paradoxical and transformational power of trusting one another.
Trust. Sometimes it’s just a little thing. But you never know. It could spark a chain of kind acts.