Trust is not built on personal likes or dislikes. It is not a sentiment or an emotion. It is built through shared commitment, shared risk, and willingness to work through difficulties. It is possible for people to hold divergent opinions and still trust one another.
I was reminded of this a few weeks ago when we celebrated the life of a dedicated member of the Initiatives of Change team in Richmond, VA, who died aged 90. Diademia Scarlet Blair – known as “Demie” – was a native Richmonder who grew up in the era of segregation and who was part of early efforts to bring blacks and whites together after African Americans won political power in the 1977 city council election. Together with her English husband, Terry, Demie hosted numerous occasions for diverse groups in her gracious home.
She was a devoted friend to Muriel Smith, the great African American contralto who created the role of Carmen Jones on Broadway and who lived her final years in Richmond.
In 1993, when Hope in the Cities led a national conference, “Healing the Heart of America,” Terry and Demie organized the opening banquet for more than 700 people complete with personal hand-addressed invitations and individual place cards.
Demie was a perfectionist. She had high standards. I recall a conversation with the hotel catering manager when she inquired whether the grapes to garnish the fish entrée would be peeled!
Demie maintained her conservative political views throughout her life. She was not slow to voice her opinions and she and I sometimes disagreed. But we learned to appreciate each other and became good friends as the years went by.
It was notable that four well-known black community leaders attended Demie’s funeral. More than one had clashed with her as they had worked together in the Initiatives of Change team. Yet they shared with Demie a commitment to "model the change" they wanted to see in society, a commitment that was stronger than any personal hurt or resentment. When the time came to lay her to rest, they wanted to be there to honor her. One of them said she respected Demie as someone who had the courage to “always speak her mind." It spoke volumes about a quality of trust that transcends differences of race, politics, culture and class.
Demie was always unflinchingly honest about her own need for change. Honesty is the first step in building trust. As I wrote in my book, Trustbuilding, “Trust depends on the authenticity of our lives, our openness, and our willingness to start with change in ourselves.”