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Hummel Column: Trust one another

I went to my grocery store Saturday afternoon, pulled up to the salt bags sitting outside and loaded eight bags into the back of my car. Then I went inside and told the cashier, a young lady I didn't know and who didn't know me, I had just loaded eight bags of salt pellets, the ones that were priced at $4.99 each. So she rang it up. As I was paying, I teased "how do you know I didn't take 10 bags?" She just looked at me like "what a stupid question." Then she said, "the kid who brings in the empty shopping carts is supposed to pay attention to the salt." I said "there was nobody in sight." But the young lady didn't bat an eye. So I paid for the eight bags of salt pellets although she had no idea how many I took except what I told her.

Elsewhere in the store, they have bins of mixed snacks. My favorite is "hiker's mix," a blend of nuts and fruit. The process is that the customer fills his own bag, identifies the contents, fills in the number of the selection, weighs it and sticks on the tag that prints out the selection, weight, price and the total. Then he checks it out and pays for it, no questions asked. It would be so easy to beat that system: identify the selection as a cheaper mix and put more into the bag after weighing it. Still, there would be no questions asked.

The system is based on trust, and it works. And a good thing it does work, because if it didn't, business would take more time, cost more money, be less profitable and would be less pleasurable for all involved. Almost any system that works has to depend on trust -- trust in a phone call, trust in a promise, trust in a word, trust in a handshake.

It works that way whether we're dealing with a grocery store, Russia, candidates for public office, the guy next door or your spouse. Take Russia for example. The first time President Bush met Vlademir Putin, he said, "I looked into his eyes and saw his soul. He is my friend." That trust was important and it worked for a while. Since then Putin has demonstrated that he can't be trusted and he has lost currency with Bush. Now our relations with Russia will not be the same in the future as they were before the Russian invasion of Georgia. Trouble is, lack of trust can lead to misunderstandings and misunderstandings can lead to war.

In politics, trust is hard to earn and hard to keep. One of the reasons it is hard to earn is dirty campaigning -- lies, half truths, exaggerations, evasive answers and just plain nastiness. Another is the influence of lobbyists. Another is huge campaign contributions from special interests. Another is local project earmarks, pork spending and bridges to nowhere. Another is special congressional privileges, health insurance, trips to all parts of the world. Another is cover-ups, dodges and refusals to cooperate. Is it any wonder our level of trust in politics is so low? As Henry Clay, distinguished Senator from Kentucky, said about 150 years ago: "Government is a trust, and the officers of the government are trustees; and both the trust and the trustees are created for the benefit of the people." For good measure, Clay also said, "I had rather be right than President."

In my own little world, a man came to me about a year ago and hired me to do a job for him. I asked him why he selected me. "I heard you were half-a*$#d honest," he said. Being a "glass is half full" optimist, I took that as a compliment and worked hard to keep his trust.

Trust is a gift. Give trust to family members, friends, business associates and even total strangers and you will strengthen your connections. Trust is the glue of relationships. Without trust, or worse, where trust is betrayed, it just doesn't work anymore. Do your best to trust one another. In return they will trust you and you will both be more trustworthy -- and happy to boot.