A Call for a New Social Covenant

Jim WallisI got another of those wrenching emails from my friend Jim Wallis over at Sojourners. He sends out a weekly email entitled “Hearts & Minds”.  Here is part of the content:

In the past 20 years, the world has witnessed the death of social contracts. We have seen a massive breakdown in trust between citizens, their economies, and their governments. In our own country, we can point to years of data painting a bleak picture of the confidence Americans have in any of our traditional institutions.

Former assumptions and shared notions about fairness, agreements, reciprocity, mutual benefits, social values, and expected futures have all but disappeared. The collapse of financial systems and the resulting economic crisis not only have caused instability, insecurity, and human pain; they have also generated a growing disbelief and fundamental distrust in the way things operate and how decisions are made. 

Sometimes we just don’t see the forest for the trees so to speak. So, when I saw the words above I was almost shocked with their simplicity. Could it really be that simple that we have just lost trust in each other to do what we think is right?

In our country one group doesn’t trust the other to not give away the country to those who are gaming the system. In return that group does not trust the other to not jerk the safety net out from senior citizens and the helpless.  As a result of the mutual distrust we have lost almost any sense of shared values. We no longer trust our government and almost everything else  for that matter. This lack of trust is not only a U.S. thing, it is a world-wide problem.

Is it even possible to restore a lost trust?  The final paragraph in this email maybe points us to a way to finding solutions:

Lack of trust is bad for politics, bad for business, and bad for overall public morale. It undermines people’s sense of participation in society as well as their feelings of social responsibility, and makes them feel isolated and alone—more worried about survival than interested in solidarity. Because the “contract” was broken, a sense of “covenant” is now needed, fused with a sense of moral values and commitments. And the process of formulating new social covenants could be an important part of finding solutions. 

To me a covenant is more than just a signed agreement between two parties as its definition implies. It is more along the lines of the biblical covenant between God and us that he will never forsake us.  The email is mainly about the World Economic Forum now taking place in Davos, Switzerland. The forum is looking to the future and asking “what now?”  It is  kicking off a year-long global conversation about a new “social covenant” between citizens, governments, and businesses. I will be watching for news about it.

I’m not much of a believer in forums, committees, and such actually accomplishing anything of the magnitude needed to address this issue but maybe a single spark from the forum could just kick off a world-wide event. We can only pray that it be so….