Sowing for Trust

How might we renew the conditions for dignity first?

Anne Snyder
Anne Snyder is the editor-in-chief of Comment magazine, a publication of Cardus, and the creator and host of Breaking Ground. From 2016 to 2019 she directed The Philanthropy Roundtable‘s Character Initiative, a program seeking to help foundations and business leaders re-envision the nature and shape of formative institutions needed for social and moral renewal in the United States. Her path-breaking guidebook, The Fabric of Character, was published in 2019. Anne is also a 2020 Emerson Fellow, a Trinity Forum Senior Fellow, and a Fellow at the Center for Opportunity Urbanism, a Houston-based think tank that explores how cities can drive opportunity for the bulk of their citizens. She has published widely, and currently lives in Washington, D.C.

We are living through times that often feel like one long commentary on Joni Mitchell’s line “you don’t know what you got till it’s gone.” From quotidian encounters on the street to public sacraments, hospitality in the flesh to basic truth-telling from our leaders, it is not the sophisticated accoutrements of an advanced civilization that have screamed in their absence, but rather the rudimentary things. The things we ordinarily take for granted, the “essential” and the core.

As I write in the twilight of this most revealing year, there is one societal staple that is tremoring with a particular foreboding: trust. Trust in other people, trust in institutions, trust in the future, trust in a shared story of hope. Symptoms of the rot abound: Surveys report that 70 to 80 percent of American Republicans believe that the most recent presidential election was rigged. More and more young people question the moral authority of religious leaders, police officers, business leaders, and even K–12 public school principals. We are seeing a crisis in the legitimacy of our political and epistemic authority structures. People increasingly claim their reality as the only reality, and no pain expressed from another’s life experience, no reason nor facts nor even personal appeals of goodwill, stand much chance of budging how one sees and where one stands.

Much ink has and will continue to be spilled on how we arrived at this depressing state of rigidity, and we at Comment commend that literature to you. But what this winter issue wants to do is brave the “what now?” question: What might it take to build some trust back in to our withered commons, and for those who have never tasted trust’s rewards, sow it reliably for the first time?

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