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Trust: The First Phase of Combatting Divisiveness

Byron Bagby

December 2016

"Trust is the highest form of human motivation. It brings out the very best in people." - Stephen R. Covey

"Trust" is more than the root word for trusting and trustworthiness. Trust is the foundation of any meaningful relationship between and amongst family members, co-workers, friends and organizations.

When I think of the word trust, one person that immediately comes to mind is Mr. Overton T. Harris. Mr. Harris was born, raised, educated and employed in Fulton, Missouri. His family has been in the banking industry since the 1850's. Over a period of more than 60 years, he performed many roles at The Callaway Bank from teller to President/Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board.

Mr. Harris' life and mine have a lot of similarities with both of us being: natives of Fulton, Missouri; graduates of Fulton High School and Westminster College; and members of the Westminster Board of Trustees. Yet, we have some dissimilarities which one could see as a barrier to building trust. One difference is both of my parents were relegated to domestic work and unskilled labor because they were barred from attending Fulton High School due to racial discrimination. Whereas Mr. Harris' family enjoyed open-ended opportunities.

When I was a junior at Westminster College, Mr. Harris was Senior Vice President of The Callaway Bank and lectured at one of my upper level economics classes called "Money and Banking." At the end of his lecture, he gave each student a business card and said to call or stop by the bank to see him if he could ever do anything for us.

A year later, toward the end of my senior year, I wanted to buy a car. At that time, I did not have a regular job, and had no savings nor credit history. Neither of my parents were in a position to co-sign for a loan. I remembered the offer Mr. Harris made to my classmates and me a year earlier, and made an appointment to see him. I went to his office at The Callaway Bank and explained what I wanted. Without hesitation, he told me to find the car I wanted, write a check for the purchase price, and bring the bill of sale to him the next business day and we'd complete the necessary paperwork for the loan. I found a late model used car, wrote a check for the purchase as Mr. Harris directed and took the paperwork to him the next day. We worked out the loan details that were to my satisfaction. It became apparent to me that Mr. Harris recognized my trustworthiness.

We've all heard the phrase "trust, but verify." I'm wise enough to know that before Mr. Harris gave me his trust, he verified my graduation status and that I was going into the active Army a few months later. Earlier, he had tracked my progression as a young African American man who had taken advantage of available opportunities to improve my life. As a bank officer for one of the largest banks in Central Missouri to grant a car loan to a young man with no credit history, no job, no savings and no one to co-sign for the loan was one of the greatest examples of trust that I've seen in my life. Mr. Harris looked beyond the color of my skin and disadvantaged upbringing to allow me to earn his trust. I'm not saying that life's playing field is completely level. Because most likely subconsciously or unintentionally, I am pre-judged, stereotyped and profiled more often that you realize. But, if more people would follow the example set by Mr. Harris to be more trusting and recognize the trustworthiness of others, our world would be less divisive.

Mr. Harris moved into an assisted living facility in early 2015. The last time I visited with him was in April to have a cup of coffee. He passed away two months ago at the age of 88.

True Growth Takeaway: In a trusting relationship, the trustor is responsible for taking risks, and the trustee is equally responsible for being trustworthy. When both parties fulfill their respective roles, a state of trust exists. This is true for relationships between and amongst individuals and organizations, in all sectors of our society.

True Growth Journal Question: Do I place trust in others as a prerequisite to earning theirs?
How do the best leaders build trust?
How can I be more trustworthy?

For Your Consideration: One way to keep thanks and gratitude at the forefront of your life is to start a daily gratitude Journal. Each morning after you wake or before you end your day list three things or people for which you are grateful.

About the author: Byron Bagby is a retired Army Major General who has served in five of the Army's ten combat divisions. He is qualified as an Army Ranger and a Master Parachutist. He: is the Managing Partner of BMB Solutions, LLC, an independent consulting firm; serves on three boards; and has earned the Westminster College Lifetime Alumni Achievement Award. He is married to Colonel (Retired) Monique H. Bagby, and has two adult children.



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