Burden of Trust Improves Campus Experience
November 15, 2012
Filed under OPINION
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I am prone to doubt myself, to doubt whether my words and actions are meaningful or effective. I would not bother to confide this were it only a personal problem, but I encounter it everywhere, at Whitman and at large. We have lost faith in ourselves, our words and each other. This faithlessness is the result of prejudice, and its effect is alienation and despair.
By faith, I do not signify dogmatic belief, ideology, loyalty or obedience. Here, faith simply means trusting one another and oneself, and trusting that our words and actions bear meaning. In this way, faith forms the basis of community.
To explain what I call “faithlessness,” I have room for only a few examples:
I see faithlessness when I speak at length with a stranger and feel the beginning of a bond, only to greet her later and find she has “forgotten” the context of our acquaintance, or else shows surprise that I remember it.
I read it in the faces of would-be lovers, who wish their hookups had become something more.
Faithlessness confronts me when I hear my peers casually level unforgiving critiques of books they haven’t read, people whom they know little about, and topics and traditions they don’t understand, as though the only thing that demands respect, whose value needn’t be justified, is criticism itself.
Faithlessness shows itself when politeness replaces caring speech, sex replaces love, entertainment replaces interest and commercial value replaces meaning. I can only hope––that is, have faith––that if you have experienced these things, you share my distaste.
What gives rise to faithlessness and mistrust? The basis of trust is judgment. I am the judge of whether a friend, an idea, a word or a law is worthy of my trust. Faithlessness, in contrast, is not the result of a balanced judgment that something or someone is untrustworthy.
To use the first example, if a stranger does not trust the possibility of my friendship, it is because she already mistrusts friendship itself. She has prejudged the trustworthiness of the very thing that inspires faith. She is prisoner to her own prejudice, and it would take no small measure of true friendship to restore her faith.
What all this amounts to is a failure to judge for oneself. It is a failure to think. Faithlessness results from the prejudice that all things have already been decided upon by someone else. We are more familiar with the many prescribed norms and expectations than we are with our own voices, and we wield our words carelessly because we think we have nothing meaningful left to say.
I could count on one hand the number of times I have heard one of you, my peers, truly speaking in your own voice. It is not for lack of listening. Such moments are so rare and singularly delightful that I will remember them vividly for years.
We are quite accustomed to blame poor circumstances (such as faithlessness, poverty or injustice) on historical trends, bad politicians, the economy or even the flaws of humankind as a whole. But as soon as someone insinuates that the burden of our condition lies upon each of us, that you and I are personally responsible for the problems we face, he is met either with indifference or indignation.
Indifference, or apathy, is the result of persistent disappointment, which gives way first to desperation and finally to resignation and despair. Nothing can undo this knot of defeat except, perhaps, the unrelenting torrent of love. Indignance is better, at least, for we only grow indignant because we care. Though often dismissed (“That’s just his opinion”), it shows that, somewhere deep down, we have a little faith left.
It is common and even popular for such insinuations to be written off as “pretentious,” which is nowadays regarded a cardinal sin, worse even than insincerity or vapid friendliness. The accusation of pretension (“to pretend, to make an ostentatious display”) is a challenge of authority, as in “whom are you to judge?” It is uttered out of the belief that no one has the authority to judge for oneself.
Suffice it to say that I speak only on the authority of my own faithlessness, prejudice and cynicism, which I uproot again and again, such a persistent weed it is. Only by carefully, attentively challenging each of my own prevailing judgments may I pinpoint the moment of my folly, where I have misplaced faith in meaninglessness, at the expense of my community, my education and my well-being.