In his ongoing series Christian communicator Mal Fletcher examines some of the big issues of the day. Here Mal writes about that political and moral hot potato, trust.

Mal Fletcher
Mal Fletcher

By now, we've all had our fill of electioneering. Yet there is one big lesson we can carry away from the recent national election, and it's this. The biggest issue in any election is not the economy, or education, or even employment - it is trust. Across Europe and the world, the political landscape is constantly changing. Once something which existed at the periphery of most people's experience, politics has now come to touch almost everything in our lives.

The public's scepticism about civic and government leaders is most often motivated by a sense of mistrust. "All politicians make promises in their manifestos," some people will tell you. "But their promises are worth nothing after they're elected." Trust is the basis of all real influence. Whether we're building governments, businesses or families, there can be no leadership without trust.

Autocratic power may be a potent force for change, but it is short-lived. Autocrats are generally regarded with fear more than affection during their time at the top - and with loathing once they are gone. Power can be grasped, but true and lasting influence must be given. Influence comes with the establishment of trust. When people trust their leaders, there is openness, vulnerability, which is the currency of all social change.

What is the source of trust? A few years ago, the renowned Christian evangelist Dr Billy Graham was the subject of a LIFE magazine article. The writers of the feature piece noted that when people were drawn to Graham's ministry and campaigns, it was not his communication or organisational skills which held them. The key to his success, they noted, was that people saw in him a mark of sincerity. On that basis, they allowed him to influence their thoughts and decisions.

The first key to establishing trust is sincerity. The word comes to us from the joining of two Greek words: "sin" and "cera", which put together mean 'without wax'. In the golden days of Greek culture, expensive marble statues were not easily repaired. If someone accidentally knocked a chunk from a sculpture, the waxman went to work, moulding a lump of wax to match the missing piece of stone. When the wax was coloured and dried, you couldn't tell the real from the fake - at least, not from a distance. It was only when you got close that you could see the flaw. "Sin cera", without wax, equates to "real up-close".

Trust is also the by-product of character. Our character is gauged by the quality of our decisions and responses under pressure. Will we do the right thing, the morally upright thing, when we're under pressure to do the opposite? Mother Teresa spoke to a US presidential prayer breakfast in 1994. She looked out over a crowd of eminent political leaders and media figures and spoke out boldly against contraception and abortion. She also spoke for the poor.

One reporter present at the time said that by the end of the talk there was almost no-one she hadn't offended. Yet, when she concluded, the group rose as one to give her a lengthy ovation. What were they applauding? It wasn't her conservative agenda: many of them disagreed with much of what she'd said. They were affirming her right to hold the strong convictions she expressed. She had earned the right to be heard. Her generous and selfless responses to all kinds of opposition revealed a strong character which matched her convictions. In an age where celebrity is often elevated over real achievement, character is still attractive.

The creator and producer of the Star Trek TV shows and movies, Gene Rodenberry, was once asked why he thought his characters were so attractive and meaningful for so many people. He answered that his characters were willing to lay down their lives for a cause they believed in, and, he added, there's a vacuum of that kind of leadership in our world today. Influence is also built upon strong relationships - the greater our links with people, the more profound is our influence.

Strong relationships are built upon encouragement. In a world that often seems intent on robbing people of the will to go on, encouragers literally give people back their courage. The world is looking for leadership which will inspire people and call them boldly forward in a risky world. Relationships are also strengthened by a service mentality. Not service as in, "I'll do this service for you if you pay me for it." No, service that says, "I'll do what's best for you because you have value before God, and before me."

People still want to trust. We don't mind being led. But we're looking for leaders who will demonstrate that they're real up close. Leaders who are not afraid to make morally upright choices even when under pressure to do the opposite. Most of all, we're looking for visionaries who know how to be servants.  CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.