Living in a more jaded world, where things no longer feel as secure and where the news feels predominately negative, has magnified the loss of trust in our generation.  We see institutions as failing us.  Relationships lie in ruins.  People become undependable.  It leads many to agree with researchers who say that trust is a dying commodity.

Except that it’s not. Humanity is still capable of great trust and faith; it’s just that such things become lost in the din of dysfunction. We still count on friends, trust our workmates to get the job done and believe most of those around us will remain with us when tough times descend.  And that goes for our faith in institutions as well.  We count on our banks or credit unions to safely keep and grow our finances, journey to hospitals with what ails us, have faith in peacekeeping and still believe our communities matter.

No time is better suited to reveal our penchant to believe in others than the Christmas season.  We change somehow in ways we never fully understand.  We display more patience despite the manic nature of the holidays.  We get in touch with people we haven’t seen for some time. We tip our servers more.  We give more gifts than we likely should.  We let others in ahead of us in line.  And we say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays,” not because we plan on it but because we honestly feel like it.

I’m reminded of J. M. Barrie’s observation in his Peter Pan:“All the world is made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust.”  Of course, we know that magic pixie dust infuses our holiday season sentiments, but so do faith and trust, and they are all meaningful, saying something about the desires we have for a better humanity, despite the daily evidence saying the contrary.

It sounds simple to say that communities depend on social trust in order to spontaneously come together and learn to be more adaptable to change, yet it’s true.  Trust doesn’t reside in a law, a product, a vote, in a computer or in a newspaper.  It’s people who extend their confidence to such things that makes them function effectively.  The less trust there is among a populace, the poorer the community runs, the more malicious is their communication and the more divided it becomes.

Researchers break community trust down to two kinds: social and political.  The latter means that we can trust government or democracy even when we don’t necessarily trust a politician or a political party.  We see this every day and it remains something of an enigma – we trust the system (that we most often can’t see) but not those that purvey in it (who we see everywhere).  

The former – social trust – is another thing altogether.  It largely refers to trust in strangers.  We do this all the time – the chef at a restaurant, someone we strike a conversation up with on the bus, assisting a homeless person or greeting an immigrant or refugee. In this, we trust what we can see, even though we have no idea of the background (what we can’t see).  It seems counter-intuitive, though we do it multiple times each day.

This is the stuff Christmas is made of and excels at.  It expands our opportunities to meet others, while at the same time infusing us with the desire to stretch across the divide of the unknown.

Of the two, social trust is the most vital, since it allows us to live in peace with one another without needing to have everything arbitrated by somebody else – we just do it naturally.  If you broke Canada down to its component parts, it is perhaps this remarkable trait that defines us the most to the rest of the world.  We aren’t told to get along; we have just developed a knack for doing so to a remarkable degree.  

But it where we need to be the most careful.  It is a delicate thing to increase diversity in a nation without experiencing a direct correlation with the decline of social trust.  We excel at it as a nation, but are watching as some in the political order seek to build up our distrust of the “other” so that they can gain political advantage and drive our personal fears.  Should we give in to this as a nation, our great calling card to the world will be lost.

A large depth of social trust, and the ability to express it, also proves marvellously effective at reaching out to those we disagree with, for it means that we don’t have to share the ideology of someone we disagree with in order to trust them. Partisans evidence great trouble with this, since they are out to defeat those of others views.  Yet it can happen.  It is such a temperament that permitted the opposing soldiers of World War One, pictured above, to cease hostilities on Christmas Day and share handshakes and a friendly game of soccer.

Christmas works best when trust is high.  The opposite is also true: where trust exists, the Christmas season becomes something special, even sacred.  It is this we need to seek before others in authority with divisive designs break our collective spirit.  Politics is at its best when those who disagree nevertheless seek the common good out of respect and trust.  The essence of the Christmas spirit is frequently at its best when such occasions occur.  Merry Christmas.