Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Monday, February 19, 2018

A few years ago, we needed repairs on our chimney, so I called a contractor to get an estimate.

When he got off the ladder, he said he could do the job for $500. The price was reasonable, the fellow was qualified and he came well-recommended.

"Send me a contract so we can get started," I said.

The man smiled, held out his hand and replied, "I don’t do contracts. My word is good."

No contract? Was he crazy? Did he think I was crazy? I recalled the times I’d gotten burnt – even with a contract – so how could I trust a man I didn’t even know? My mind immediately started to catalog the many bad "learning experiences" when I believed people who said their handshake was all that I needed.

There was the mover in Florida with his bait-and-switch tactics, who charged me thousands more than his estimate. It was either pay up or move into the trailer because they refused to take our furniture off.

Then, there was the landscaper who ran into unforeseen problems and ended up destroying plants and shrubs. I won’t even list the mechanics and the questionable car repairs. So how could I trust a man who said his word was his bond? Who believes that stuff anyway?

Nevertheless, I defied logic, ignored past experience, jumped into the great unknown and had the work done to perfection, not for a dollar more nor a dollar less. Now, if the same guy had done my moving and my landscaping, I would have been set for life.

Sad to say, my dealings with humankind are clouded by mistrust, whether they involve contractors, clergy, lawyers, financial advisers, car salesmen, auto mechanics, and I shudder to admit this, friends. (Usually, I look at people who advertise in church bulletins, hoping that means they’re above-board.)

Remember when you routinely heard, "Trust me"? They were words Jimmy Carter immortalized. Today, many institutions that are the foundation of our country – from Congress to banking, law, organized religion and the press – are viewed with suspicion and mistrust.

Every year, polls about trust show how bad things have gotten, and a new profession drops to the bottom of the list, depending on the latest scandal.

Congress is a perennial favorite for being untrustworthy, but recently bankers have sunk to new lows, joining the usual suspects like journalists and insurance salespeople.

A Harris Poll found confidence in Wall Street was at about 4 percent, down 13 percentage points, after the worst financial crisis in 80 years. Congress came in at 9 percent, law firms at 11 percent, major companies at 11 percent and the press at 12 percent.

The good guys were the military at 58 percent, small business at 48 percent, educational institutions at 40, the White House at 36 and medicine at 34. Hovering around the middle of the pack were organized religion at 28 percent, public schools at 25 and the judicial system at 19.

What does that say about us as a country when institutions that are supposed to operate on fundamental Christian values can’t be trusted?

We have a lot of work to do to restore confidence. You can’t rebuild trust through legislation, public service ads and promotional offers. It happens one honest act at a time. We need a power of example. A CEO? A political leader? A religious leader? A celebrity? How about my contractor?

J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.