I was raised by my grandparents during the 1950’s in the American Midwest. They were deeply religious people, devout Methodists, who had known poverty and hardship all their lives and survived the Great Depression. My grandmother had to support the family due to my grandfather’s bad heart condition. But though confined to bed most of the time, my grandfather was the township’s Justice of the Peace, a correspondent for three newspapers, and a tombstone salesman. He was a proud man, loved and trusted by the community, a man on whom people knew they could rely. He never let us down.
It was my grandfather who embedded a fierce moral code within me. “Always say what you mean, and mean what you say. Always tell the truth, no matter how difficult this may be for you or others. Always give things your best, do what you can for others, and don’t let them down. Always do your duty. And if you give your word, keep it. A man is only as good as his word.”
During these past six weeks alone, five people have given me their word that they would do something, and then not followed through. None of them has even apologized. I doubt they even remember their promises. These were made on impulse, apparently sincerely meant at the moment, but then quickly forgotten. In my life, over the past several years, such instant forgetfulness on the part of those who have made promises to me or others I known has been the norm. I’ve had to conclude that too often people just aren’t reliable. Their word has meant nothing. They’re not trustworthy.
I spend much of my time working in the business world. Those who run companies engage with others and ask for, and rely on, their trust. To engage in business at all is to accept that one has responsibilities – to fulfill one’s contracts and pay one’s taxes, responsibilities to customers, employees, shareholders and, ideally, to the community and the environment. But contracts are cheated on or unfulfilled, tax loopholes sought, shoddy goods and services offered to customers, and shareholders cheated by huge executive bonuses and corruption at the top. In the majority of cases, let the community and the environment be damned. Banks can no longer be trusted, and politicians never could be.
In our private lives too, cheating on our duties and promises is becoming common, is even in many cases considered socially acceptable. We make New Year’s resolutions that are jokingly dismissed the next day. We take vows “to love, honour and cherish till death us do part”, but 50% of marriages now end within five or ten years. We make commitments to love, nurture, raise and be there for our children, but 25% of children live in one-parent families and another vast percentage are being raised by step-parents. We promise our children toys or outings or favours, but we don’t follow through. We promise to love and honour our parents, but when elderly and dependent, we put them in old-age homes. We tell friends that we will visit, phone, or write, but we don’t. Nearly every day we give our word to someone but then don’t keep it.
I have a passion for quantum physics, and its insights have shaped much of my sense of who I am, why I am here, and how I fit into the larger scheme of things. One of the central insights of quantum physics is that it is we who make the world, we who are responsible for the world. The outcome of a quantum experiment depends upon the physicist’s choice of a measuring instrument. The side of reality evoked by any investigation depends upon the questions that the physicist asks. Quantum holism teaches us that there is no such thing as separation. Each of us is “entangled” with, part of and defined by everything else in the world. Each of our thoughts, decisions and actions reverberates across the universe. Everything that we do has consequences for the whole. In the same vein, and himself strongly influenced by quantum insights, Jung said:
“If things go wrong in the world, this is because something is wrong with the individual, because something is wrong with me. Therefore, if I am sensible, I shall put myself right first. In the last analysis, the essential thing is the life of the individual. This alone makes history, here alone do the great transformations take place, and the whole future, the whole history of the world, ultimately spring as a gigantic summation from these hidden sources as individuals. In our most private and subjective lives we are not only the passive witnesses of the age, but also its makers. We make our own epoch.”
Each of us is dependent on others. We can’t live in a world without trust. We let others, and ourselves, down when we are not trustworthy, when we are not good for our word. Quantum physics would say that we let the universe down. I long for the world of my grandfather’s integrity and moral code. I long for trust not to be naive.