Trusting that We are not Rivals, but Neighbors

A culture of contest and contract regards everyone else as a competitor or a rival or a threat. So you never trust. It is a world that values dominance. A culture of covenant and neighborliness depends on trust. All the research and political theory about associational life says its base is trust. Money does not hold it together. The currency of contracts is money. The currency of covenant is trust. 

The neighborly covenant replaces contracts with vows, which are simply unspecified promises. We have to decide whether we will trust a person’s vow. If someone breaks a vow, there is no legal recourse as there is in a contract. When the Amish sold land, they wrote out the title deed, and the seller kept the document. The buyer, who normally takes possession of the deed, would hand it to the seller and say, “Well, why don’t you keep that, so it’ll remind you.

Trust is the glue of a communal narrative.

When was the last time you made a vow or promise to a neighbor or friend? Grab a pen and paper and just list a few people that come immediately to mind. What promises have you made to each other? What vows have your neighbors kept or broken with you?

How might you acknowledge that you are in a neighborly relationship with them, thanking them for their commitments and for the ways they’ve kept those commitments? And in the case where they or you may have broken a commitment, have you been able to remain in relationship? How might you acknowledge the gift of maintaining (or repairing) that relationship even after broken promises.

Radical economic transformation begins at our ability to build and maintain relationship beyond contracts or “what’s in it for me”.

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