How Trust Works
There are a number of things in life, I’ve noticed, that simply don’t work the way we really want them to work.
Merge lanes and roundabouts, based purely on my own empirical first-hand experience of them, seem to be examples of things that seem like they should work, but alas! They do not, at least not properly. It’s humans using them, after all, and that’s where it all falls apart.
Something else I’ve noticed that doesn’t seem to work at all the way public opinion would have us believe it should work is trust. Whether it’s our ability to trust other people, or our ability to prove our own trustworthiness, it seems to me that we’re fairly consistently missing the mark, based on the cloud of distrust, disappointment, judgment and wariness that surrounds us.
When it comes to trust, we’re consistently being let down or letting others down. We just can’t seem to get trust right, that fickle and elusive beast. We do keep trying, though, which is very sweetly optimistic, god bless our persistent little hearts.
Now, this probably wouldn’t be a huge issue, if it weren’t for the fact that we set so much store by trust and tend to use it as a key currency when it comes to being in relationships with other humans, which is something we tend to do rather a lot.
So, what’s the problem with trust? Nothing at all, it turns out. The problem isn’t with trust, it’s the way we use, or more accurately, misuse trust that hamstrings our ability to not be disappointed and cynical.
How often have you heard someone say, or said yourself, “I just can’t trust him/her. She/he has let me down too many times before”?
Maybe it’s not even this specific person who has let you down. Maybe you can’t trust this person here in front of you because someone else let you down and you are projecting that untrustworthiness onto anyone who seems like they might be “that kind of person.”
Perhaps you’ve been the person who just can’t seem to gain someone else’s trust. Maybe it’s not you; maybe you’re paying someone else’s bill, which means that you’re being projected onto as one who is not trustworthy and it actually has nothing to do with you.
Maybe you’ve been burned before. Maybe you’ve been hurt one time, or several times, too many. I get it. Being a human seems to come hand in hand with being hurt. It’s a risky business, being a human, after all. We wander around this world with our hearts open until something happens and we try to shut all the doors to keep ourselves safe, which generally doesn’t work but does leave us miserable and wary.
You know what though? It’s not that you can’t trust someone; it’s that you won’t. You’re not unable to trust someone: you’re unwilling to do so. Those are not the same.
Trust is a choice, not an ability.
Hear me out: what if nothing anyone does can make you trust them, and neither can you earn someone’s trust, either?
What if trust is a gift we give away? And, like any other gift, what happens after we give it away is largely none of our business. It’s a gift. No strings attached. Certainly we can hope that we’ve given the gift of our trust to one who will hold it with care and integrity, but there are no guarantees in this life.
If you’ve ever found yourself telling someone what they would need to do in order for you to trust them, you’re kind of killing the entire purpose of trust and turning it into a transaction.
Trust is defined as a firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something, or the acceptance of the truth of a statement without evidence or investigation.
A belief is something we accept to be real or true, regardless of proof or evidence. That’s what sets a belief apart from facts or knowledge. We’re in the realm of choice when it comes to beliefs and trust. We have to choose to believe a person is trustworthy, the same as we have to choose to believe that they are not.
“I want to trust you” is not actually the same as “I want to know for certain that you will not ever let me down, disappoint me or hurt me”, but we toss it around like it’s the same thing.
No wonder we’re so often let down. How often do you speak of trust when it’s really a guarantee you’re hoping for?
This is a bit of a bummer, because generally speaking, when we’re choosing to trust someone, we’re likely trusting them with something that feels important to us. And it’s a scary and vulnerable feeling to give someone some control over something that feels important to us. It feels like losing control, because, to an extent, that’s what it is. But it’s not someone else’s job to alleviate that discomfort for us. That’s where our willingness to choose trust comes in: not just when it works out perfectly, but also when things go a little off the rails. We can choose trust there, too, instead of distrust. One makes you have a better experience of life, which seems like a good idea to me.
For sure, it’s uncomfortable not knowing how things will go for certain. It can make it feel really hard to practicing choosing trust, especially if we’ve been let down or disappointed in the past. But that is how trust actually works. It requires some faith and hope for a better outcome.
We can’t really know we can trust another person. Heck, we can’t even really know we can trust anything: this bridge won’t collapse, that dog really is friendly, this roof won’t fall on me, these cars will honour the agreed-upon meaning of traffic lights and stop, etc.
If we could absolutely know all of these things we trust to be factually true and certain, then we wouldn’t need to trust them in the first place. Trust would become unnecessary and redundant, because if you could just know, then you wouldn’t need to trust at all.
The good news is that trust is completely within your control. There is nothing they can do to earn your trust and there is nothing you can do to earn theirs.
This, of course, is also the bad news. It means you’re just going to have to choose to trust people, to believe in them, and to trust you are strong enough to be okay if things go a little sideways, which they likely will, because Life.
You don’t have to take my word for it. You can trust me, or not, as you choose. Again, that’s the whole darn point.
But just for fun, what might be possible in your life and your relationships if trust really was a choice and not a commodity to be traded?