Trust builds community

Published 10:23 am Friday, January 13, 2017

Well, it’s been fun, Bogalusa.

Today marks my final day with The Daily News, and by Monday I’ll be with the Port Arthur News, one of our company’s sister papers, in Port Arthur, Texas.

The move marks, almost to the day, a year from my transfer to Bogalusa from Picayune. This transfer returns me to Texas, my home state, but it is of course a bittersweet move.

Bogalusa has been an interesting, fun and welcoming community, if also similar in some ways to other communities. There is a famous line by Tolstoy in his novel Anna Karenina, that says “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” and I think the opposite lesson can be applied to places.

I was in the Peace Corps and lived overseas and since then I’ve lived in communities across Mississippi and now in Louisiana. While I can’t speak about families, I know a bit about community problems and I can tell you that unhappy or dysfunctional communities are quite often dysfunctional is much the same way.

To have a better, happier community, what we need is trust.

Whether the distrust in the community and its leadership stems from real or imagined slights is irrelevant, but without trust in the police and our civil servants, community buy-in is difficult. Gaining trust is a lengthy, time-consuming process, but it can be attained.

I don’t think the importance of trust can be overstated. According to the 2016 UN World Happiness Report, Denmark is the No. 1 happiest country on Earth. The U.S. is No. 13. According to the report, the biggest difference in our countries is our perception of trust in the government and in the business community.

When I was a Peace Corps volunteer in East Timor, the community I lived in had no running water and only two privately owned pump wells in a village of about 500 people. Most people — the vast majority — collected river water, and during the six-month dry season, that meant digging four or five feet into the riverbed to collect water. I asked my neighbors why no one organized for neighborhood pump wells and collected monthly money for their maintenance and over and over all I heard was that no one trusted anyone to keep the money. So, because no one could trust anyone, most everyone had to walk to the river to collect heavy buckets of water. It was insane.

In the United States, we have running water, but we also have people who don’t report crime or don’t turn in suspected criminals because they don’t trust the process. In Bogalusa, we have quite a few people who do not trust the city council and the mayor. This distrust is not warranted, but that doesn’t matter.

Space does not allow me to get into any of the reasons (real or imagined) for the sources of this distrust, but it is clear it is real and we’re all being forced to go to the proverbial river and heft heavy buckets.

But we can choose differently. We can choose to empathize more. We can choose to listen more. We can choose to trust more.

Jesse Wright is the managing editor for The Daily News. You can email him at or call him at 985-732-2565, ext. 301.