This week’s journal topic: Trust
Tears were streaming down her face as she stared at him across the living room.
“How could you?” She choked out the words. And then, suddenly, as she become aware of the reason for her aching heart, her words turned to accusation: “I trusted you!” The angry look of betrayal washed away the expression of disbelief and disappointment.
He was confused. He never asked her to trust him or said anything to make her believe he was even worthy of her trust. She knew his past – what had she expected? So she had trusted him – to do what, exactly?
What does it mean to trust someone? Do you trust yourself? Answer quickly, before philosophy gets in the way! You might feel confident that you know what it means to trust and be trusted, but let’s examine the concept of trust, just to be sure.
Trust is Transitive
“To trust” is a verb mostly used in the transitive sense. That means there’s a “do-er” and a “done-to”: You carry the pail; You cross the bridge; You sit yourself down… (Well, maybe not that last one!) Trusting is done by someone, we have it in someone, and we trust them to do something:
She trusted him to be faithful.
Yes, you could use “to trust” in a sentence to say something like Sarah trusts, or omit stating the task she trusts will be done, as in Sarah trusts in God. But arguably what is implicitly meant is that Sarah trusts in God to protect her, or forgive her, or whatever else God is supposed to do for a person. That said, the concept of trust discussed here is trusting other people to do something for us.
When do we trust?
In order for me to trust you, I must believe that you are
- Capable and competent
In order to trust you to do something, I must also believe that you’re capable and competent to do it. I cannot “trust” that you’ll come home by midnight if it’s eleven o’clock and you’re a two hour drive away. I could say it, but I would not believe myself and you would not believe me, either. In another example, your boss will not trust you to complete a programming task if she knows you hardly have the skills to use Word. Trust is based on evidence. To trust in someone without any prior knowledge of his competency is not really trust. It’s faith – belief beyond evidence.
In order to trust someone, you must also have some prior knowledge about the other person that gives you insight into their commitment level. You don’t “trust” a stranger; you groundlessly hope for their goodwill. In contrast, I trust my friend because I have prior knowledge of her desire to maintain a good relationship. The existence of a relationship signals that someone is committed to maintaining mutual confidence.
Risk & Freedom to Fail
If I asked you for a large sum of money as collateral when you borrowed my car, would I be trusting you to return my car? Strictly speaking, the answer is “no”. The reason it’s not trust is that I can rely on the law to guarantee that you’ll return it to me. When I’m backed by the law, trust is made irrelevant and unnecessary because I no longer need to guess your level of competence and commitment. There’s no gamble, no risk, no vulnerability. Put in another way: you do not have the freedom to fail nor the discretion to choose to let me down. Trust necessarily involves risk and vulnerability.
When you trust someone, you are accepting a risk that you might lose something valuable, such as:
- An item of monetary value
- An opportunity
- Security, etc
Because trust involves risk and relationships, the feelings that arise as a result of broken trust are often resentment, betrayal, anger, and shame (especially if trusting the person was foolish).
Back to the story…
The dynamic at the beginning of the post shows how two people can misunderstand trust. There is no trust if:
- The situation is not interpersonal (i.e. it requires a relationship of some kind, even with oneself)
- There is no risk of loss to the trusting person
- The trusted person has no freedom/discretion to fail
- The trusted person is not competent or capable of carrying out the task
- The trusted person was never committed to carrying out the task
In this case, there was an interpersonal relationship in which the woman counted on a man to do something. The question is, was she wrong to trust in someone who does not display competency, capability, or commitment? Or, is trust something that should always be expected in a relationship, even if we never say to another person explicitly, “Trust me”?
- As a child did you trust adults and other children? Do you remember any specific instances of trust or betrayal?
- How have childhood trust habits carried into your adulthood?
- Do you trust in inanimate objects? (Does it seem right to “trust” an alarm clock to wake you up? – consider the concepts of “freedom to fail” and interpersonal relationship)
- Could you “trust” in animals and would you feel betrayed by an animal not living up to your trust?
- Name the people whom you trust in your personal and work life.
- Do these people you trust know that you trust them, or is trust implicit in the relationships?
- How does it feel to be vulnerable to loss when you trust someone?
How to Get the most out of Know Thyself 2019:
Don’t rush through the questions. Do one question every day, leaving space to add thoughts later as you learn and evolve. The journal is designed to help you develop a consistent, daily practice of self-reflection.
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