Friday, October 22, 2010

Stories and Trust Building

We are living at a time when trust is in short supply.  I will shortly be posting a review of Martin Marty's important contribution to the discussion of trust-building -- Building Cultures of Trust (Eerdmans, 2010), but as I was working on the review I returned to an important point in the book.  Marty talks about seven levels where risk and trust meet -- the assumption here is that trust involves risk, for without risk there is no need to trust.  Trust building, Marty says, involves a number of things, including the telling of stories.  These stories can be helpful or not, depending on their content and context.  

Marty writes about the importance of storytelling:
Stories of betrayal or victimization undercut efforts to build elements of cultures of trust.  Stories of heroism and faithfulness among humans who keep to the customs and covenants of trust inspire ever more trust.  They point to the exemplary, to the embodied heroic virtues in ordinary people, and they can inspire emulation among many in the subcultures they are meant to redeem or enhance.  (Building Cultures of Trust, pp. 33-34).

So what are the stories that build trust?  To give an example of a story that creates mistrust -- the reports of clergy sexual abuse, both in the Catholic Church and outside, has caused immeasurable harm to the Christian faith.  We don't need attacks from outside by people such as Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins to create mistrust in our religious institutions.  We're doing a pretty good job ourselves.  So, how do we change the narrative?  How do we tell the stories that will inspire the building of trust, rather than destroy it? 
As a caveat here, it's important to remember that, as Marty points out, building trust is difficult to achieve, and destroying it can occur in a moment in time.  What are the stories of the heroes and the faithful that can help build a new culture of trust? 

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