A few weeks back, the headline was about Olympic athletes being robbed in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. After a few days, it turned out that they were gold medal contenders for the what were you thinking? event. One US swimmer won the liar-liar, pants-on-fire trophy across the world. I wonder how much trust will be restored after all the damage control that followed.
We know what trust is. We trust others. They don’t earn it. Either we give it, or we don’t. We also trust in portions or on a sliding scale. Some get more than others. We also know that trust depends on a lot of things. Past behavior is a big one.
When will Charlie Brown learn that Lucy will pull the football back at the last second? She does it every year (link).
About the same time that some of our athletes were not being robbed at gun point in Rio, I was in a discussion about trust. I thought I had trust figured out. I learned some things (I usually do when I shut up and listen).
I’ve never thought about the fact that we need to trust. Carrying that need a bit further, we also need to not trust. It would be great if we had this perfectly figured out. Often, people we trust teach us valuable but painful lessons on who not to trust, and when. As it is with love, when we trust we become vulnerable.
I once asked a work-mate why he left money on the table when he did not put a small percentage of salary into a retirement account, which our employer matched (free money). He didn’t need the money. His answer was, “I don’t trust them.” I was dumbfounded by his answer and I changed the subject. He paid for his lack of trust.
Competence and honesty are two other conditions that effect our trusting others. Our trust may have a few variables and conditions that go with it. I may trust you to suggest a good dentist for me. I will not trust you to be that dentist.
When my cardiologist showed up to place stents into my coronary arteries, I trusted him more when he told me how many he had done. I liked the guy, but that had nothing to with his competence. His experience did.
So, in addition to the things I mentioned earlier, we may trust others in differing degrees. That degree may increase in proportion to competence and experience. Generally, we don’t trust people who we think are dishonest.
When I discuss trust and judgment, I use the word discernment. Our ability to discern improves over time, often with a trail of painful lessons because we trusted people we shouldn’t have. When Ronald Reagan used the oxymoron “Trust but verify,” he was really saying “do not trust them.”
Erik Erikson theorized that trust is learned during the first couple of years of life. Regardless of how accurate that is, it seems logical and emphasizes the importance of trust in our lives from early on.
What I think is important regarding trust is not how much we have in others. We usually have some, even in total strangers. What is important is that we learn to use reliable judgment, based on experience to discern how to trust.
In her TED talk, What We Don’t Understand About Trust, Onora O’Neill says it much better than I can. Click here to watch it.
Trusting seems natural. America’s motto is In God We Trust. Another is E pluribus unum (out of many, one), but in 1956 we wanted to make sure that our country was not confused with the atheistic USSR.
In America, it seems that we want to trust more as we deal with each other every day. Are we worthy of the trust of others? Who do we trust?