A Tenuous State of Trust

by Cherie-Lynn van der Merwe


“I have learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  Maya Angelou

Throughout history, countries have placed great trust in their leaders. Whether governance has been in the form of a monarchy, democracy or dictatorship, the expectation has always been that citizens would feel inspired by a sense of safety, security and well-being. The legacy of those who led them has been measured by how citizens have felt. How we feel is influenced by trust.


Like any relationship, citizens measure government success through trust. It suggests that citizens have confidence in those they entrusted with their well-being in the present and future. Trust thrives in a context where accountability is willingly offered, the integrity of persons and policies are prevalent and competent people are found in positions where they can make sound decisions for the good of all citizens. Trust is inspired in the wealthy when they are given rational reasons to share their abundance with the poor. When the poor are treated with dignity, compassion and a genuine desire to see their cycle of poverty broken. Trust is nurtured when communication lines are open to the people’s voices, and leadership holds no secrets. By all accounts, leaders who can inspire that kind of trust are servant leaders.


We all fall short of the ideal. Temptations around pride, arrogance, ego, and power hover enticingly close to people in high positions. When leaders fall from grace, rebuilding the citizen’s trust is hard. Those who govern should listen to the voices and emotions of the people and take responsibility for their damaging actions and attitudes. Honest communication and action prevent fragments of trust from being torn to shreds.


A country whose sense of trust lies in tatters is one filled with anxiety and resentment. Its people feel insecure as they see ulterior motives around every corner. Suspicion becomes the lens through which the world is viewed. Communities lose their sense of hope for the future. The rich move their assets into safer markets, and the poor turn to desperate survival measures. The greedy capitalise on the vulnerability of the moment. In the end, no one wins.


As we prepare for an election year in our country, the citizens will be measuring the success of its current leadership and carefully considering if possible evidence of servant leadership exists in other options. Of course, there will be the usual speeches, promises and accusations. But it might be the inner voice of how people feel that will decide their vote. Their ballot will be marked by where their trust lies.




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