Challenges to Trusting the Process

Trust the process.

This was a phrase I often heard when a strategy session or a problem-solving meeting bogged down.   The group would get stuck, and in frustration someone would either suggest we scrap the whole enterprise, or would start accusing a participant of being clueless or obstinate or worse.  Tension would rise, fatigue would kick in, body language was poised for fight or flight.  In the midst of it all the appointed leader would again say, “trust the process.”

Sometimes the group did in fact trust the process, and participants reengaged the issue, worked through the confusion – and came out with either greater clarity, or a clearer goal, or a deeper commitment to the mission (whatever it may have been.)  It was hard, and sometimes mind numbing work, but most people found that the process was worth it. In retrospect, what we discovered in the challenging process was that we shared a common humanity, and a desire for all of us to flourish.

And sometimes a group couldn’t, or wouldn’t, trust the process – and chasms of misunderstandings emerged, and resentment was the primary takeaway.  Which is where we are as a country these days – particularly when it comes to the rule of law.  A sizeable portion of the American electorate have expressed outrage over the May 30 conviction of former President Donald Trump.  Their fingers have been pointed – and cries of foul have been hurled, at a judge who is regarded to have been unfair, a jury that was biased (if not rigged), and at a prosecutor’s office that was carrying out a political vendetta.  The responses have ranged from shrill to threatening.   Since there has been no legitimate process, from their point of view, there is no reason to trust the verdict.

Moving up the judicial hierarchy, there is growing resentment – and a deepening mistrust, from a sizeable portion of the American electorate who feel that several Supreme Court justices have seriously compromised their independence – and their judicial integrity, by accepting lavish gifts from wealthy donors or displaying flags at their homes that reflect a definite political, if not legal bias.   Fingers have been pointed, and cries of foul have been hurled, over what are perceived as egregious conflicts of interest.    Although I have not heard of threatening responses to these recent disclosures, reactions certainly have been shrill.  It is thought that the process of judicial review, first established by Chief Justice John Marshall in 1803, which has been one of the bedrocks of Constitutional law, has been seriously compromised, leaving more and more people unable to trust the work of the Supreme Court.

Justice, and those who adjudicate justice, seem to be up for grabs.

Trust in our institutions – and trust in the people who lead these institutions, seem to be evaporating before our eyes.  Legal processes, business processes, political processes, educational processes, religious processes, are not just under scrutiny; more often than not they are under vengeful attack.  Pointing fingers and ascribing blame no longer seems to be a spectator sport; more and more of us are involved in this stomach-wrenching fray.

In 1858, in a speech accepting his nomination as the Republican candidate for the United States Senate (an election he lost to Stephen Douglas), Abraham Lincoln said, “ a house divided against itself cannot stand.”  As he often did, he borrowed from scripture, and the sayings of Jesus (Mark 3:25).  Lincoln spent his political career – and literally gave his life, trying to hold the American house together.  While he was well versed – and quite expert, in the political processes of his day, he appealed to a more abiding principle – of our common humanity, as expressed in both the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution.  He exhorted and cajoled – and used his brilliance and eloquence, to get people to look beyond their hardened perspectives and deep-seated biases; and to find a way to claim and shape our common humanity. 

Some may argue that Lincoln’s words and witness didn’t work.  Many say the same thing about the words and witness of Jesus.  Maybe not in the short term:  Lincoln ended up presiding over a Civil War, and Jesus ended up crucified on a cross.  But in the long term, America held together – in large measure because of Lincoln’s witness;  and the admonition to love your neighbor still abides – even in the face of overwhelming odds — in large measure because of Jesus’ exhortation.  But Lincoln – and Jesus, in profound and similar ways, challenged people to trust the process – of claiming our shared humanity.





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