When Lord Robert Baden-Powell first drafted the Scout Law in 1908, he could have picked any number of positive attributes to place at the top of the list.
But he had good reason to start his list with "trustworthy."
"A Scout tells the truth," begins the first tenet of the Scout Law. "He is honest, and he keeps his promises. People can depend on him."
Gold and silver prices will fluctuate. But try putting a value on trust. It is inestimable. People prize it immensely. We feel terrible when we misplace it. It's so valuable that leaders and business owners and the media spend every waking hour trying to win it from you.
Like other sought-after commodities, trust often takes a beating in the public marketplace. It is cheapened by politicians who use trust as oil to grease the machinery of their own interests. Look at Congress. Trust in that lot has the current value of a Zimbabwean dollar.
Heaven knows advertising too often has pummeled the concept of trust into the ground. Why buy Acme brand toothpaste? Because your favorite movie star uses it. You can trust him.
But through all that, the phrase "Scout's honor" is so firmly ingrained in popular culture that it has become a synonym for instilling 100 percent trust.
Baden-Powell surely would be proud of that. Honesty, integrity, dependability -- all that falls under the aegis of trust, and it's in the backbone of every good Scout.
Philosophers have noted a difference between trust and reliance. We rely on the power company to keep our lights on, but when the power fails we don't feel bitter emotional betrayal. Trust is different, and we employ it for different reasons -- out of goodwill or self-interest, mainly.
But if there is no trust, everything else falls apart. It's a glue that binds us. Beneath all the laws that help shape our society and behavior, at some level we must still trust one another -- that each of us will do the right thing.
It probably has been said before: If there is no trust, there is no progress.
Part of being a good Scout -- indeed, of being a good person -- is to be trustworthy, and to know when to trust others.
Above all, though, trust yourself. When you can do that, as Goethe wrote in Faust, "you will know how to live."
(In honor of Scouting's 100th birthday this year, The Chronicle will be exploring the 12 character attributes listed in The Boy Scout Law. Next week: loyal.)