Narrated Hudhaifa: Allah's Apostle related to us, two prophetic narrations, one of which I have seen fulfilled, and I am waiting for the fulfillment of the other. The Prophet told us that the virtue of honesty descended in the roots of men's hearts (from Allah) and then they learned it from the Qur'an and then they learned it from the Sunna (the Prophet's traditions). The Prophet further told us how that honesty will be taken away. He said, "Man will go to sleep, during which honesty will be taken away from his heart and only its trace will remain in his heart like the trace of a dark spot; then man will go to sleep, during which honesty will decrease further still, so that its trace will resemble the trace of blister as when an ember is dropped on one's foot which would make it swell, and one would see it swollen but there would be nothing inside. People would be carrying out their trade but hardly will there be a trustworthy person. It will be said, 'in such-and-such tribe there is an honest man,' and later it will be said about some man, 'What a wise, polite and strong man he is!' though he will not have faith equal even to a mustard seed in his heart."When I first read this hadith in the midst of a very deliberate search for something related to "trustworthiness," because that was the school's monthly character trait, I really didn't understand it. Then I heard Sheikh Islam talk about it in his khutbah during Friday prayer yesterday, and I immediately understood it's application to my life. Ya Latif. God is The Subtly Kind.
I often make the mistake of reading things like this as statements that this scenario will inevitably come to pass, and I'm usually wrong. It's usually telling you how to prevent something bad from happening, which is the case here. We have to do the best we can to maintain our own trustworthiness. If we are not trustworthy, we cannot expect other people to be trustworthy. Alhamdulillah, I think a lot of trust remains among people at a societal level in the US. People obey traffic laws, for one thing. They trust each other to stop at red lights and stop signs. They drive inside the lines. They don't abuse the speed limit. When there's a perception that people rampantly disobey laws, societal cohesion starts to break down.
The same is true in more personal one-on-one interactions within families and workplaces and governments. When one person breaks the trust of another, a domino effect can result. The person whose trust was broken might break the other person's trust, and then they have no reason to expect that a third party will maintain their trust. It's no surprise when trust is broken a third time.
There's a social theory called Broken Windows Theory. What it says is that a perception of disorder will result in real social disorder. For example, if there's a broken window in a garage in a neighborhood, and no one fixes it, people will start to perceive the area as disorderly. Since one window is already broken, seemingly without consequences, people will break more windows, which will create an even greater perception of disorder, and that sets the stage for violent crimes to occur.
This theory can be applied to trustworthiness as a social norm. If you break my trust and do nothing to remedy the situation, I might feel like it's okay to violate your trust because I perceive that trust is not worth very much. If I continue to act as though I believe that, other people might take cues from me, and they will begin to betray the trust of others as well. Pretty soon it's chaos and no one trusts anyone anymore. It can happen so quickly, and I'm sure it happens all the time.
I actually read about Broken Windows Theory in the context of classroom management. And, wow. Fixing the broken windows really does work. Just creating a perception of order helps restore order. Man, I sound Durkheimian right now. Anyway, when your classroom is a little bit off task, all you have to do is point out to the class that some people are doing what they're supposed to be doing. For example, "I see Khadijah reading silently. I see Ibrahim reading silently," etc. The off-task kids will realize what they're supposed to be doing, and that other people are doing the right thing, and they'll want to do that thing too! I tried it. It totally worked.
Inshallah this remedy can be applied to trustworthiness. If we want trustworthiness to be a social norm that we all adhere to, the first step, of course, is to change ourselves. Then, I'm hoping we can attempt to modify our own perceptions by noticing the trustworthy people around us instead of the untrustworthy people. In my classroom, when I paid attention to who was on task, it made me realize that my class wasn't as disorderly as I first thought, and that helped it get even more orderly. So, we need to notice the trustworthy people and talk them up to ourselves and to people around us. Not like the people in the hadith who lament that there's only one trustworthy person left, but in a way that emphasizes the potential for trustworthiness in all of us. I can't help but think of Pope Francis as a very visible public figure who exemplifies some of the best character traits you could ever hope to see in a person. There are so many people like him, though. Just thinking about my family and close friends, I can think of lots of people who are trustworthy and generous and merciful. What about the people you know?