Institutions don't fail us. The people who make up those institutions do.
Trust that people will always do the right thing and chances are you will be seen as gullible.
Believe the worst will happen and chances are you will be seen as cynical.
In between the gullible and cynical is a vast spectrum that plays out every day in our lives, and despite what we encounter, most of us remain on the positive side of things. In times when we experience the worst of human behavior – rudeness, aggressiveness, meanness, deceitfulness, narcissism – there have been institutions that served as pillars of society, a stabilizing force that helped provide a semblance of balance.
We rallied behind our government in World War II, listened to our leaders as they told us to conserve, to buy war bonds and to do our part to ensure victory over our enemies. We had trust that government (and those who ran it), for all its faults, was basically rooted in good. Then came Vietnam and Nixon and Watergate, and the institution was exposed as not infallible. We lost trust.
For generations the faithful turned to religious institutions, but the Catholic pedophile scandal exposed religion as not infallible. We lost trust.
The press has always been at the forefront of holding public officials accountable and exposing wrongdoing everywhere, but the 24-hour news cycle and reporters serving as commentators poisoned the well and exposed the press as not infallible. We lost trust.
The police motto is to protect and serve, but several high-profile instances of officers killing unarmed suspects have exposed the profession as not infallible. We lost trust.
In fact, take just about anyone or anything that is held up as a shining model and we will immediately begin the work of trying to bring it down.
About the only remaining institution left standing is the U.S. Supreme Court, but even that has been under a constant barrage for more than a decade. Presidents don’t nominate Supreme Court justices any more. They nominate “liberal” or “conservative” justices, and how the court will “tilt” based on the number from each camp is the main topic of conversation.
There is not even a pretense that anyone nominated could perform the job in a fair, ethical and non-compromising way. The institution is teetering. A brisk wind is all that is needed to have it come crashing completely down. But whether it comes down now or some time in the future is of little matter. It will come down.
In truth, institutions fail because they are made up of individuals who, by nature, are not infallible. It is wrong to judge an entire group by the actions of a few. And while we should not be gullible enough to presume an institution can do no wrong, we also should not fall to the other side and condemn the entire institution because of a few bad apples.
We may need, at times, need to replace some cracked or broken blocks in the foundations of our institutions. But we needn’t bring down the entire structure when some minor repair work would suffice.