The word trust is five simple letters and a single syllable yet one of the most baffling words I have ever come across. If you find it hard to believe just ask a few of your friends what it means and see what you get. I did just that, I sat looking at the word trust at the top of this page for about thirty minutes waiting for my thoughts to flow out and onto the page. None came. I googled around and found a few quotes:
“Money is the most universal and most efficient system of mutual trust ever devised.” Harari
“To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float.” Watts
“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” Hemingway
“I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.” Nietzsche
“All the world is made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust.” Barrie
“You may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will live in torment unless you trust enough.” Crane
“Sometimes you cannot believe what you see, you have to believe what you feel. And if you are ever going to have other people trust you, you must feel that you can trust them, too–even when you’re in the dark. Even when you’re falling.” Albom
“If we can just let go and trust that things will work out the way they’re supposed to, without trying to control the outcome, then we can begin to enjoy the moment more fully. The joy of the freedom it brings becomes more pleasurable than the experience itself.” Hawn
After all these quotes I still didn’t fully understand what trusts was and that last Goldie Hawn quote sent me down the rabbit hole and I ended up watching the movie Overboard and not really writing anything at all. Overboard was a movie totally based on a horrible breach of trust. A breach that under normal circumstances would most likely have ended with Kurt Russell’s charter, Dean, being locked up for kidnapping, rape, child endangerment, and fraud. But since this was an 80s romcom of course it ended with all being forgiven and a happily ever after kind of love.
A couple of days later when I finally got back to it, I was still at a loss. I sent out a simple question: What is trust? Most answers revolved around time, observation, hope, and faith. These ingredients were blended together to create a lovely stew of trust. Spending enough time with some so that you could observer their behaviors and hope that they would continue to maintain those behaviors so you could have faith in the future.
However, there were a few surprising answers, one was a single word, ego. I was intrigued and asked for an elaboration. And this was the response: “It’s not something I’ve had to use or identify with. I only hear it when I dialogue with others who possess the need to validate themselves through it. Outside of that, I embrace the experiences in who I know, vs. who I intend for them to be. Trust excuses us from facing things we deny or fail to see in self. So, it is false, and ego based.” This response resonated with me! Trust was fake! Just some junk we made up to not feel so scared! My response was: “This is in line with what I have been feeling! Trust isn’t real its simply words and ideas that people use to make themselves feel secure or safe. We need to be safe because we fear of being vulnerable and getting hurt. It does sound somewhat ego based although I never thought to use that specific word in relation to trust. I would always just feel that it was a falsehood because it was simple based on hope. The hope that people behave based on past behavior or a specific idea set by you. I often find it impossible to trust people to be anything other than human.” For a few days I let the idea of trust being ego-based drift around in my mind. After that time, I came to the conclusion that even trusting people to be human is a level of trust, and therefore trust is actually inescapable. It may sound good on paper to say that trust is just a way to control others but actually I believe it is the hope that people are who they present themselves to be. Trust is not a demand made but instead a grace offered in the absence of full confidence. Trust is steeping off the edge of your comfort zone and giving another human the benefit of the doubt.
There was another that caught my eye: “trust is the ability to make yourself completely vulnerable to someone else.” This answer was interesting and a tad unsettling because it involved vulnerability and didn’t require anything from another person. The trust was simply given. So of course, I had to ask some clarifying questions. “Is there an expectation of reciprocity and safeguarding of that vulnerability?” Yes, was the reply. This response scared me a little. Vulnerability can be messy, painful, and downright stupid! I know, I know, I’m being a bit dramatic but admit it vulnerability is hard. How does one simply lead with vulnerability when they have been in survival mode for a large portion of their life? We simply don’t. Sadly, it this inability to be vulnerable that hinders our ability to trust and some would say to truly know love.
When you ask most people what trust is, their mind reflexively processes the request as if the question posed is only applicable to individual human relationships. Few consider the larger implications of trust. In a conversation with another friend I was reminded of one particular form of trust that is essential for civilization to evolve. That specific form of trust often overlooked because it’s so interwoven into our life, we rarely take the time to acknowledge its presence. What could I possibly be talking about? Why social trust of course! Social trust is the glue of society. This form of trust allows people to live and work together, feel safe, and belong to a group. It’s kind of funny when you take a moment to consider that without trust our entire country and way of life would crumble. Our ability to trust in money, a simple piece of linen, to believe that it holds value allows economies to flourish. Our ability to trust politicians and leaders creates a stable society and the absence of that trust can lead to division, public outcry, and can be the basis for the total destruction of a civilization. Almost every act in our daily lives is an act of trust; our alarm waking us up, eating store bought food, driving on public roads, working for eight hours, washing dishes after dinner, and even brushing your teeth before bed. A precise definition of social trust doesn’t really exist. Simply put, social trust is the expectation that another (person, group of persons, organization, institution, or government) will behave in a particular way, largely based on previous behavior (1) . Social trust had historically been difficult to attain in inner city and poor communities. Historically Blacks and other people of color have witnessed and possibly received extreme brutality from the very persons in the community that are charged with protecting and serving them. History has conditioned many in those communities to mistrust and even fear the authorities. Its hard for some to understand that this breach of trust feeds on itself, “if I don’t trust the people who are supposed to help deescalate situations and protect me, I will take matters into my own hands”. When people take matters into their own hands, they move into action filled with emotions and things can quickly escalate into violence. This endless cycle is devastating to thoes communities and for all Americans. What all of us must have is trust, we simply cannot prevail in its absence.
In essence all of life is an act based on trust, be it a romantic endeavor or mailing in your ballot this November. One benefit of social trust is that as a society we the people can come together and demand accountability or change. Unfortunately, it is not possible to rally the troops, hold a protest, and DEMAND that our romantic partners acquiesce to our expectations for a repeat of their historical behavior. Sigh… If only! I truly enjoyed All of the conversations and revelations uncovered therein. What came to light is that many us don’t fully understand trust and those that have some ideas about what it entails don’t know how to actually trust due to being survival focused. I really enjoyed the reflection on social trust and it’s complex implications for our daily life. Yet, I still struggled to write this post because trust between individuals has always been difficult for me to understand. I have tossed this concept around for well over a year or so, reading books, watching videos, and deep moments of reflection. What I have concluded is that trust is simply the hope that that you can safely share a mutual vulnerability with someone. But you should do so with a complete understanding that we are all imperfect human beings and that past behavior will not always dictate future behavior. There is no guarantee of safety so lean into the uncomfortableness of the unknown, enjoy all the experiences you can wholeheartedly, don’t dwell on past transgressions, always seek to know who someone actually is vs who we hope for them to be.
I think this quote is actually my favorite of them all…
“Have enough courage to trust love one more time and always one more time.” Angelou
Brene’ Brown’s perspective on trust:
- Verducci S., Schröer A. (2010) Social Trust. In: Anheier H.K., Toepler S. (eds) International Encyclopedia of Civil Society. Springer, New York, NY. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-0-387-93996-4_68