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The Baha’i teachings exalt the quality of trustworthiness – the ability to be relied on as honest and truthful – as one of the fundamental attributes that underlie all creation. Baha’u’llah wrote:
The first, the fundamental purpose underlying creation hath ever been, and will continue to be, none other than the appearance of trustworthiness and godliness, of sincerity and goodwill amongst mankind, for these qualities are the cause of peace, security and tranquillity. Blessed are those who possess such virtues.
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This makes trustworthiness a cardinal Baha’i virtue, one of the main pillars of all good character.
But what does that entail? To unpack this hefty topic, let’s break down the concept and analyze it. The word cardinal means “of basic importance,” and comes from the Latin word cardinalis, which means “serving as a hinge.”
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary says “Since a hinge is the device on which a door turns,” cardinalis and its root Latin word cardo came to mean “something on which a development turns” or “something very important.”
That definition should help us nuance the importance this virtue. To understand the subtleties of trustworthiness further, we need to discern the dynamic relationship between the one who entrusts and the trustee, and how that trusting relationship affects human society. Baha’u’llah wrote:
All the friends of God should be as a sacrifice unto the One true God. All bounty and honour shall be the portion of the soul that arrayeth itself with this greatest of adornments.
This passage from the Baha’i writings sheds light on the gravity of trustworthiness and its importance as the bedrock of our inner character.
Think about it this way: Do you know anyone you would describe as completely trustworthy – someone you would trust under any circumstances?
What’s particularly fascinating about the hinge analogy in relation to the cardinal virtue of trust is that several other human virtues and character traits actually hinge on trustworthiness – even the ones we don’t immediately see the correlation with at face-value. Trustworthiness is, in one major way, reliability. When trust serves as a hinge to reliability then other qualities are hinged as well, such as punctuality, dependability, and competence – since to strengthen one’s reliability that person has to be competent enough to take on the entrusted task or mission.
As for punctuality, like so many other praiseworthy qualities it is based on a person’s word. When someone says “I will be there at six,” then they give their word and make a promise. To break that promise renders the person unreliable and undependable.
Many other good qualities hinge on trustworthiness: loyalty, empathy, fidelity, and truthfulness, just to mention a few. In another sense, trust means safeguarding confidentiality and secrets – so in order to be trustworthy, one has to be loyal. Remaining loyal to friend and foe alike, a trustworthy person never betrays the vulnerability of the one who entrusts.
In order to be loyal and showcase fidelity, we must empathize with the feelings and sensitivities of anyone who takes us into their confidence. When the entrusted one is able to feel what the other person is feeling and put himself or herself in their position, both people become connected heart to heart, and a trusting, empathetic friendship develops and deepens.
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When we view trustworthiness in light of these two aspects – reliability and safeguarding confidential information – we learn that an immense number of virtues are hinged under the overarching cardinal virtue of trustworthiness. A trustworthy person displays many accompanying virtues: punctuality, dependability, competence, loyalty, fidelity, and truthfulness – which the Baha’i teachings describe as “the foundation of all human virtues.”
In a larger sense, beyond individual attributes and qualities, trustworthiness defines the relationships between contending groups and nations, as well. In any negotiation, it becomes the most important aspect – because commitment and keeping your word extends past individuals into the treaties and agreements larger groups enter into in good faith. Without trustworthiness, none of those pacts or promises would be kept, and the entire structure of our interdependent world and its collective security would fail. Baha’u’llah wrote that trustworthiness:
… is the door of security for all that dwell on earth and a token of glory on the part of the All-Merciful. He who partaketh thereof hath indeed partaken of the treasures of wealth and prosperity. Trustworthiness is the greatest portal leading unto the tranquillity and security of the people. In truth the stability of every affair hath depended and doth depend upon it. All the domains of power, of grandeur and of wealth are illumined by its light.
So when you encounter a trustworthy person – someone who honors their commitments and keeps their word – know that you have found a gemlike spiritual quality.
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