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Is there anyone out there the world can still trust?

ON Saturday I enjoyed a light lunch (lasagne) and then watched a major sporting event.

Shock result, but no matter. Then on Sunday I attended a religious service, heard an impressive homily, and went on to visit a couple of folk in hospital. All seemed as it should be over a quiet, routine weekend.

The above sentences are complete fiction. They are full of lies. None of that happened.

But we now appear to be living in a world where truth is an optional extra, at best; a world that is replete with deceit and routine fraud.

After recent events it's clear that we cannot necessarily believe what we are told on the tin, or the food labelling. And a significant amount of top-level sport is apparently fraudulent. Fixing, cheating and corruption are far more prevalent than many of us liked to think.

So just whom can you believe? Indeed can you believe anyone at all in any position of responsibility or authority? Can you trust clerics, or doctors? I'd like to think so, but occasionally you have to wonder. Yesterday's resignation of Cardinal Keith O'Brien, a venerated and respected figure, crystallises this crucial issue of trust. Meanwhile hospital waiting times are cynically manipulated. And so a corroding doubt seeps through our society.

Organised religion and the health service are, for very many people, necessary, essential recipients – in different ways – of belief and trust. Yet even they are by no means immune from this debilitating scourge. Where can we place our confident convictions, if we have any left? What can we put our trust in? To paraphrase Bob Dylan: does all the truth in the world add up to one big lie?

For as long as I can remember, few people have trusted politicians. One of the problems for politicians is that while they pay lip service to noble ideals such as social justice, human rights, equality and fairness, they realise that many, possibly most, people are ultimately much more interested in their own standard of living.

As for journalists, they used to be down there with used car salesmen (never, for some reason, new car salesmen). But somehow, the hacking scandal notwithstanding, the stock of journalists appears to be rising just a little. Perhaps this is because other bogey men and women are fast emerging to take their place. Bankers, for example; and accountants, too. If we go back to the crisis of 2007 and 2008, where were the audit committees, the auditors themselves, the regulators? Sometimes it seems that we live a society that apparently has all the right structures in place – but the edifices are rotten, always about to fall down.

And is there a single living human being who is widely regarded as a beacon of decency and integrity on an international scale? We now live in the so-called global village, but it is amazing how few of the "leaders" in the village are trusted and respected for their goodness and probity. Mother Theresa perhaps came quite close to enjoying pretty well universal reverence, but then she was hardly a "leader".

I conducted a very small and unscientific survey to find if there was anyone alive today, any international figure, who was generally respected, admired, and believed – and only one name came up: Nelson Mandela.

He is a very old man now; he will be 95 this summer. When he dies, there will be genuine grief, worldwide, because he is seen to represent something that so few other prominent people do. Where are his successors?

Even Mr Mandela was, by his own testimony, never any kind of saint. Not even, he noted modestly, on the limited definition of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying. Not so long ago many people, not only in South Africa, demonised him.

The most powerful personage in the world is supposed to be the President of the United States. President Obama is probably better than most of the recent ones, but he has not kept his specific promises on Guantanamo prison.

The last president of the US who was pretty well universally regarded as a pillar of integrity was Jimmy Carter, and as it happens he was also regarded as one of the least competent and effective presidents of modern times. That says a lot.

Jimmy Carter was a very decent man, but hopeless at deploying power. He was proud that he had never once lied to the American people, yet that was nothing like enough to gain him a second term in office. Of course we accept that most politicians do lie, from time to time. In the House of Commons, at the very heart of UK power, it is "unparliamentary" for one MP to call another a liar. So a kind of silly game is played, because they want to call each other liars – in this, are they telling the truth? – and they play with words to get round the convention. Thus Winston Churchill once said of Aneurin Bevan: "It is hardly possible to state the opposite of the truth with more precision".

Indeed, politicians, even the most eminent, are pretty cynical about the lies that most of them tell. Depressingly, they can be equally cynical about telling the truth. It was Bismarck who said: "If you want to fool the world, tell the truth". One of the more obscure British prime ministers, Arthur Balfour, said: "It is seldom possible – if ever necessary – to tell the whole truth." Was he lying when he said that?

It's quite possible that in the past we all trusted too well, and too easily. Perhaps a growing climate of scepticism, a persistent challenging of what we are told, would be no bad thing – as long as it does not lead to a society in which no-one believes anything at all.

Colette Douglas Home is away.

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