Hoaxes like balloon boy erode our trust in others

The balloon boy saga is deemed a hoax. And closer to home, we find out the guy whose car was "accidentally" swallowed by a sinkhole in Duluth was not a victim at all.

My question: How does that make you feel? Or more accurately: How does it make you act?

Because stories like these - one national and large in scope, the other local and smaller in stature - have an effect on us. Because the more times we hear people lie - big or small - the less we trust the next story and the next person.

When the balloon story first broke, the newsroom watched as the balloon sailed through the sky. There was empathy for the child who possibly was on board and for a family who would later prove to deserve none.

When talk of a hoax began, many couldn't, or maybe didn't want to, believe it was possible. You wouldn't do that to your kid, they said. But that faith in human nature was ultimately not rewarded. It was "gotcha," not just on local authorities but also on folks who want to believe the best in people.

It's like having the rug pulled out from under you, and the more it happens the less trusting you are. The Heene family is just the latest example, but their actions are part of the reason people are so untrusting.

They are part of the reason you don't hand out money to the guy in the parking lot who says he needs gas even though you can't see his car. They are why you don't totally trust the guy at the off ramp, holding the sign that says he needs food. They are why every once in a while you can't help like feeling someone is playing you for a fool.

Maybe the answer is not worrying about being the fool. Nine times out of 10 (or maybe even a higher percentage than that), your help will be appreciated, your donation used appropriately and your trust rewarded.

Then again, there are many scams perpetuated on the elderly. Ask Bernie Madoff's clients how trusting they are these days. So trust is never an easy thing.

But I guess when it comes down to it, you don't have much of a choice. You have to let that mistrust go, like a balloon, or risk bottoming out like a car in a sinkhole.

E-mail Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Wednesdays.