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Posted: March 01, 2013

Reducing the trust deficit

We've got to mean what we say

Helen Raleigh

Today’s leadership coaches spend a great deal of time on qualities such as vision and communication skills, but one important element is often missing: character development. The kind of character I am referring to is being truthful – say what you mean; mean what you say; and back up what you say with action.

Unfortunately, we as a society are so consumed with being politically correct, we not only stop saying what we mean and meaning what we say; but also stop expecting the kind of truthful character from our leaders and public figures. The downside of not being truthful is that we as a society experience a trust deficit.

Trust is not only the core of a society’s moral fiber, but also the foundation of our economic system. Trust cannot be demanded. One has to earn it. In a free economy, you will only exchange goods and services with someone you can trust, someone you know who says what he means and means what he says.

If later you found out that person has been dishonest, you would stop trading with him again. When too many such incidences happen, the economic system will be damaged.  Frederick Douglass said “The life of a nation is secure only while the nation is honest, truthful, and virtuous.”

For those of us who are entrepreneurs, we know we are not in business to sell goods and services. What we are selling is a guarantee that we will make good on our promises. Abraham Lincoln said, “Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”

A business person’s character is the foundation of their business. If the foundation is shaky, the business itself will fail sooner or later. My father always told me that speaking the truth is the only way to live freely.

Being truthful, saying what you mean and meaning what you say, takes great courage.  Recently, I finished reading Peggy Noonan’s biography of President Reagan. In this book, Ms. Noonan described how President Reagan’s steadfast commitment to speak the truth about the Soviet Union and Communism on the world stage eventually brought down the Berlin Wall and the Soviet regime. Ms. Noonan wrote that a “dictatorship cannot continue forever in an atmosphere of truth”.

We live in a challenging time. Many of our problems can be solved if we are willing to have honest discussions and take action.  To reduce our trust deficit, let’s start saying what we mean, meaning what we say and back it up by action. Let’s demand the same character out of our leaders and public figures.

Dr. King said “Time is always right to do what is right.”  That time is now.

Helen Raleigh, CFA is the owner and Chief Investment Officer for Red Meadow Capital, LLC, a Colorado Registered fee-only Investment Advisory Firm, which focusing on providing clients with honest and sound financial advice. She has more than 10 years experience in the financial services industry ranging from pension funds to risk management. Helen is the author of an autobiography, "Confucius Never Said."  She writes insightful columns and blogs for a variety of media outlets and her writings can be found at the Wall Street Journal, the CFA Magazine, the Denver Post and her blog postings. She can be reached at:

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Readers Respond

Helen, sage advice. Thanks. However, some of the comments appear to reveal a misconception of what truth is. Truth is the recognition of reality. As human beings, reason i.e. our mind, is our only means of acquiring knowledge. We observe the facts of reality, and integrate them into a system of knowledge to guide our actions. The more consistently we acknowledge reality, the more likely we are to acquire knowledge that develops our moral character. The more we evade reality the more likely we are to introduce breaches of morality. Preaching God-fearing and repentance is unfortunately the enemy of truth as it demands acting based on faith, often against the facts of reality. To paraphrase Thomas Paine, let Reality be your God and your Mind your Church. And don’t let any false prophets tell you otherwise. Cheers! By Anders Ingemarson on 2013 03 02
Right Helen. I also agree with Lizzy. There is no true character and moral bearing with out God. First president George Washington said "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, God and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars." Upon this principle are those founding fathers built this nation. and by forgetting it, we got into trouble. My friend Michael, those who claim to be God fearing but duplicitous, don't take them as God fearing; they are only hypocrites. If you know people who say they don't know God but are honest and courageous, it is only from God because in every man/woman God created the image of his characters. No philosophy, self-rational, self-esteem or self-interest devoid of God can be able to restore America to its glory. By Tamrat on 2013 03 01
Excellent article and quotes! All progress starts with the truth and Helen identifies, more than any specific issue or challenge we face, it's character and moral bearing that is fundamental. But telling the truth doesn't have anything to do with being God-fearing. There are plenty of people I know who have no fear of God and yet see that it is their own self esteem and long term rational self interest that leads them to be honest and courageous. I also know many who claim to be God-fearing who are duplicitous and completely devoid of character. By Michael Williams on 2013 03 01
Helen. great article. I agree that character is a foundational element both in a person's life as well as in society. We are experiencing a crisis of character and to follow your advice regarding the need to have a serious discussion and take action. what I can say is that the character that we need to restore in America is that of God-fearing and repenting people. At this point. I believe that unless we put God in America again. we are fighting a loosing battle. By Lizzy Norris-Cohen March 01, 2013 By Lizzy Norris-Cohen on 2013 03 01
Good article. As a Rotary Club member, I find the international service organization's "Four Way Test" - 4 short questions whose answers help me to make the right decisions in work and in life. My club (The N Colorado Springs Rotary Club) has several school ethics programs (grade school, 9th grade and one at an alternative high school) that I believe have made a difference in the lives of young people. By Rosanne Gain on 2013 03 01
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