One of the hidden lessons from the Parable of the Good Samaritan is how we all benefit when there is trust between human beings.
As we know, the Samaritan took the man who had fallen among thieves to an inn, paid the innkeeper and then said that if the sum was insufficient to cover the cost of the victim’s care then he would make good the difference when he next passed by.
The Good Samaritan had to trust the innkeeper not to turn the man out as soon as his back was turned and pocket the money. He had to trust him not to inflate the bill. He had to trust him to do all that he could for the robbed and wounded man.
The innkeeper had in turn to trust the Good Samaritan to pay when he next came – and that could have been a very long time off in those days – during which period he would have been carrying the extra costs. He had to trust that nothing would happen to prevent the Good Samaritan returning.
But trust each other they did and the beneficiary was the man who needed help. Our ancestors had a word for this sort of trust. They called it honour, but that word is in short supply today. If the Good Samaritan was paying the innkeeper now, he would have had to have his credit card checked in advance.
It is not only in financial matters where trust is important. It is important in every relationship we form. Employers have to trust employees and vice versa. Friends have to trust that confidences will not be betrayed. Husbands and wives have to trust in each other’s fidelity.
Yet these days there is a flourishing market in betrayed confidences. Children write books rubbishing their parents. Siblings tell, wives tell, mistresses tell. People who claim to have been mistresses tell. Employees sneak a look in files. Cleaners examine the contents of waste paper baskets. The now widespread confidentiality agreement is simply another way of saying “I do not trust you”, as is the prenuptial financial agreement.
A society in which one’s word was one’s bond is now as old hat as swords and horse-drawn carriages.
Trust must always be mutual. Generals have to trust their troops to fight and not run away, while troops have to trust their generals not to lead them into unnecessary danger through rash judgments.
People must be able to trust their governments to govern in the best interests of the country. Now we are seeing a major breakdown in trust between the people and the government, and that is one of the most dangerous of all failures in trust, which in the past has led to civil wars. Of course politicians have never been considered the most truthful of mortals and their promises raise eyebrows rather than hopes, but what is happening now is on a quite different scale.
On the whole politics is, contrary to popular perception, an honourable profession. A manifesto is considered binding except where unexpected circumstances arise to frustrate its implementation. People have a reasonable expectation that a government will follow the programme it outlined and the philosophy behind it. Above all people trust Parliament simply to function.
Now we have a Parliament which is not trusted by the people and a Speaker (at least until John Bercow steps down) who is not trusted by the government. An assurance was given that whichever way the 2016 referendum went, the result would be respected. Few now believe that to be the case.
Eventually the current impasse will be solved one way or the other but the breakdown of trust will remain for a long time. Why bother voting if the results are ignored? Why listen to a politician saying what he will do when you do not trust him even to try? Why accord any respect to people who have let the country down so badly? Democracy flourishes only when trust is present.
From the highest institutions in the land to the humblest transaction between two people, we are losing the will to trust and we will all be the losers. Back to the parable of the Good Samaritan. The chap who was brutally assaulted and mugged was helped because two other human beings trusted each other. He also had to trust both of them.
Christ’s parables were rarely one-dimensional and that of the Good Samaritan has more layers than most: the warning against snobbery, the exhortation to the proper use of wealth and success, the supremacy of compassion and not being too busy to stop. It culminates, however, in the importance of trust, and what we do know is that once trust is lost it is difficult to regain it. Boris, John and Jeremy take note.
Ann Widdecombe is a novelist, broadcaster and Brexit Party MEP
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