Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about trust. It started a couple of weeks ago when I was introducing my ninth graders to Machiavelli. I had an excerpt for them to read and the introduction to the piece talked about Machiavelli’s world being one in which no one trusted anyone else. I had been pointing out to my students the parallels between the Renaissance and our own times, and that one knocked me for a bit of a loop. Watch, oh, say thirty seconds of current political news and you will see it. The whole Donald Trump phenomena is the result of a lack of trust. “We don’t trust politicians, so let’s get someone who is NOT a politician.” I guess people figure we can at least trust Trump to be Trump. The Medici were predictable, consistent and efficient businessmen as well…but I’m moving on because this is NOT a political post.
Since the afternoon when we read that portion of The Prince, I’ve been more aware than ever of the lack of trust in our world. Of course the world can be a scary place. We need to be vigilant and aware as we navigate it. The problem comes when the paranoia spreads and we begin to distrust people who are really on our side. I feel this as an educator. I’ve told my students that in order for real learning to take place in my classroom, they must trust me and I must be able to trust them. It’s true. Lack of trust disables learning. Students must believe that when I assign a reading there is a good reason for them to read it. They must know that being able to join in the discussion that follows the reading is going to contribute to their over-all good and understanding, that it will help them to be better people. I must trust that they have really read the material, that the thoughts they share in discussion and in writing are their own. When that trust breaks down, we all suffer. Real learning requires community. Community requires trust.
We often use the “team” analogy in education. Parents, students and teachers form a team. Teams work best when the members trust one another. Being able to depend on your teammates is vital to success–both on the court or field and in the classroom. All of us are going to make mistakes at various points in the game, but we’re still teammates. The mistakes aren’t as likely to lose the game for us if we work together to minimize the damage.
Since January I have been copying the Old Testament book of Joshua into my journal. I’ve just finished the chapters about the division of the land amongst the Israelites. The land is won and everyone is going off to settle in and get down to living. Suddenly, in the middle of Chapter 22, the western tribes get the news that the eastern tribes, the ones on the other side of the Jordan River, have built a large altar, and “the whole assembly of the people of Israel gathered at Shiloh to make war against them.” Woah! It’s kind of shocking. They just got settled. Everything was peace and light and suddenly, they are preparing to war against each other–over an altar. Why?
They are going to war because they have made an assumption. The tribes west of Jordan automatically assume that the tribes east of Jordan are going rogue. They see the altar and assume it means they are going to offer sacrifices on it. Sacrifices were only supposed to be made at the Tabernacle. Offerings made elsewhere would be made in disobedience. This, they knew would be displeasing to God and unhealthy for them. Thankfully, they sent some representatives to check out the situation before the fighting started. As it turns out, of course, the altar was not to be used, but rather was just built as a reminder–as a witness–to show that the tribes in the east worshipped the same God as the tribes in the west.
As I began copying out this passage, I was irritated at the western tribes. I compared them to people that I feel don’t trust me, people who make assumptions and get angry and ready for war without all the facts. Then I noticed that the eastern tribes weren’t very trusting either. They built the altar in the first place because the were afraid. They said, “We did it from fear that in time to come your children might say to our children, ‘What have you to do with the Lord, the God of Israel?'” The lack of trust worked both ways. The eastern tribes didn’t trust the western tribes to keep including them, so they built a great big altar. The western tribes jumped to a false conclusion about this altar because they were afraid of the consequences to themselves. Fear and looking out for our own interests–these are things that lead to fighting among us.
John tells us that there is no fear in love. Love is the foundation of trust. Trust is necessary for community. Community makes life worth living. I want to love more, fear less, and trust instead of going to war. Then, when we work things out in peace together, we can say as Phinehas the priest does at the end of this story, “Today we know that the Lord is in our midst…”