Curb Your Enthusiasm

Published: August 5, 2009

By Jim Lichtman
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Based on just the past 18 months of ethics-related scandals, it’s safe to say that trust is difficult to come by in corporate and political leaders, not to mention the media.

With the passing of Walter Cronkite, “the most trusted man in America,” the Washington Post asked readers to submit their own nominees for trustworthiness.  Here are a few:

Oprah Winfrey, “because she has been so open and so transparent about her own life, and so welcoming to a range of Americans, inviting them to be no less open about theirs.”
– Johnnetta Cole, director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art.

Elizabeth Warren, Harvard law professor and banking oversight czar, “because she’s been telling the truth to the American people since the beginning, with passion, steadfast-ness and a clear sense of history and what is at stake.”
– Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post.

Warren Buffett “is smart. He’s unafraid. He doesn’t need favors or help from anyone. And his calls are pretty smart.”
– Ben Stein, economist and actor.

Jon Stewart. “He’s got no agenda. His agenda is to get to the bottom of everyone’s [baloney].”
– Seth Hurwitz, co-owner of 9:30 club.

“I guess Anderson Cooper would be my answer, because he always has that slight bit of cynicism when it’s deserved…”
– John Waters, filmmaker.

“It would be difficult to name any one person in our present time who could fill the role Walter Cronkite had as the most trusted person in America. That is particularly true in media for two reasons. The first is the large and increasing number of sources to which we turn for information and the second is the trend of today’s journalists not only to report the news objectively, but also to provide personal commentary through columns, blogs and TV punditry.”
– Archbishop Donald Wuerl, Archdiocese of Washington.

“As far as the world is concerned, if I had to choose one person it would be the Dalai Lama, because he’s not selling anything but peace. In America I trust Obama more than anyone else. He’s doing the best he can. I think Americans in general trust Oprah because they can relate to her.”
– Deepak Chopra, spiritual guru.

But what does it mean to be trustworthy?

When we’re speaking of family, friends, co-workers or employers, it usually means someone who demonstrates honesty, integrity, promise-keeping and loyalty.

There are two aspects to honesty:  honesty in communication and conduct.  Being honest “requires good faith intent to be truthful, accurate, straight-forward and fair in all communications,” ethicist Michael Josephson says.

“Honesty in conduct prohibits stealing, cheating, fraud, subterfuge and other forms of dishonesty or trickery to acquire anything of value.”

Integrity means acting in a way that is consistent between principle and practice.  More importantly, Josephson points out, “Integrity requires us to treat our beliefs about right and wrong as ground rules of behavior,” not simply another set of criteria. It means that sometimes we must demonstrate the moral courage necessary to do what’s right “even when it may cost more than we want to pay.”

Promise-Keeping imposes the responsibility to make all reasonable efforts to fulfill our commitments and obligations to others.

And finally, loyalty means demonstrating a moral duty to promote and protect the interests of certain individuals and organizations.  However, loyalty does not give someone the right to ask another to compromise their honesty in the nameof loyalty.

So, who earns your trust?

“There’s a Yiddish proverb,” writes Eric Dezenhall, a Washington public relations guru.  ‘Whoever tells the truth is chased out of nine villages.’ On this basis, no one is more maddening – and trustworthy [than Larry David].”


  1. Author

    About the Yiddish proverb “Whoever tells the truth is chased out of nine villages”. Does that mean the individual is welcome in the tenth?

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