Broken trust and humility

Fred Cavaiani

The apology and admission by Brian Williams, NBC anchor person on the nightly news, that he had mistakenly stated his aircraft was hit by rocket propelled grenade air fire in Iraq in 2003 is certainly setting off many emotional fireworks. Some call for his resignation. Others feel betrayed by this most popular, calm and objective television newscaster who has been appreciated and respected over so many years. It is like catching your favorite and most beloved uncle in a lie. This omission or possibly a repeated lie could derail Brian Williams' very successful career.

The media - television, newspapers, twitter, Facebook, Instagram and every other form of communication - can be very punishing and unforgiving. When someone is a beloved public figure it makes it very difficult to forgive and put things in a proper perspective. We feel so hurt when someone we respect makes a mistake. The more loved a person is, the more hurt we experience when we read about a mistake or lapse in integrity they may have made.

Famous figures are held to standards that even canonized saints might never reach. In our present culture every success and failure of a famous person becomes an open display for the whole world to see and criticize. We can magnify mistakes so greatly that it overshadows all the good things a person has done. We can also magnify the good things a person has done and minimize the harmful actions of a well-known person.

The arena of maximizing or minimizing a person's successes and failures has always been with us. What hasn't been with us over the years is the intense, pervasive and immediate display of popular and famous peoples' successes and failures. This is a recent phenomenon because of our advanced technology.

We can easily allow the media to contaminate all the good a person has accomplished and maximize mistakes so forcefully that our negative emotions can block the positive feelings we once had for a celebrity. Truth becomes relative. Minor transgressions become major catastrophes.

I have always liked and respected Brian Williams. His fabrication about being hit by a RPG is not a minor offense. It appears to have been a downright lie though there are many people who under trauma recall past events inaccurately. As I have watched him over the years, I have always been impressed with his calmness, objectivity and ability to not let his own personal viewpoints contaminate his reporting. So my heart tells me that this is a very good person because for many years he has been quite consistent in his honest and objective way of reporting the news. I am hurt by what I discovered about his errors in reporting an experience that wasn't accurate. Yet, my personal hurt does not need to get in the way of recognizing that this has been a good man whom I have observed over many years.

I want to approach this whole experience with forgiveness and then observe if this popular television newsperson can continue to do his job with integrity and humility. We all deserve some very honest sharing from Brian and a clear explanation of why he did this. Some of the best people in the world have made mistakes and honestly admitted them. It is not the mistakes a person makes in life that become the primary problem. It becomes the honest and humble admission of those mistakes that is most important. It is the humility to not repeat those mistakes and maintain the honesty and integrity that was once there that we all want to see. When someone minimizes their mistakes or continues to deny their mistakes, then our lack of trust in that person is acceptable and warranted and keeps controlling our attitude.

We will never be surrounded by perfect people. That is fantasy. But we can realistically hope to be surrounded by honest and humble people. Life for everyone will always be "progress, but not perfection." God save me from people who think they are perfect and immune from mistakes. When we rush to condemn and criticize and judge those who admit their mistakes we become arrogant and put ourselves outside the experience of human and divine compassion. We then block ourselves off from healthy human experiences and relationships. We also put walls up between our own personal self and God.

Trust first your heart in your relationships. Trust what you have experienced on a regular basis. But pay attention to your feelings and pay attention to the actions of other people. People who are consistent caring, compassionate and trustworthy will show this in their actions. Mistakes can be made but the humble and caring consistency will remain. When trust is broken lives can be demolished. I remember the trust that was broken by my wife's oncologist, Dr. Farid Fata who used to encourage her and many others to have unnecessary cancer treatments and iron infusions. He is presently awaiting sentencing in a federal prison. The trust that was broken had caused my wife to fear trusting the medical establishment. Her cancer returned and she has had to undergo another serious operation. Her last surgeon whom she trusts and respects moved to a different part of the country. To find another oncologist and another surgeon to depend upon has been a traumatic journey. But she has done it. However, we both learned a lesson from this. We didn't trust our hearts as we reflect back on her relationship with Dr. Farid Fata. A doctor who keeps oncology patients waiting for two and a half hours each appointment and orders extra unnecessary procedures should be questioned. We experienced this but allowed our blind trust to overcome our uncomfortable feelings. Trust means paying close attention to your feelings.

I think all the data is not in yet on Brian Williams. I will look for more humility from him and more genuine compassion for the pain he has caused others. Real sorrow is based on empathy toward the pain caused to others. So Brian, please empathize with our pain because so many of us have trusted you and respected you so very much. We will continue to trust you and respect you but we need you to empathize with our pain and disappointment. Then all can be let go and we can all get on with life as we did before but now knowing that we are closer because of an honest admission of mistakes.

Some of the most honest people in the world are those who have humbly admitted serious mistakes. Some of the most dishonest people in the world are those who have never admitted their mistakes. Integrity, humility and forgiveness all go together. When there is broken trust a great dose of humility and integrity is needed to be expressed to those who have had their trust broken. We can forgive when we are in the presence of humility and integrity.

Fred Cavaiani is a licensed marriage counselor and psychologist with a private practice in Troy. He is the founder of Marriage Growth Center, a consultant for the Detroit Medical Center, and conducts numerous programs for groups throughout Southeast Michigan. His column in the Legal News runs every other Tuesday. He can be reached at 248-362-3340. His e-mail address is: and his website is

Published: Tue, Feb 10, 2015


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