I see trust as part of an unfinished sentence.
The full sentence, in my mind, would go like this: “I trust that you will not harm me”.
Notice I didn’t say “You will never harm me”? I said, “You will not harm me”.
What is trust?
Building trust is like befriending a wild animal
Building trust is kind of like befriending a bear. Or a lion…. Or whatever wild, potentially lethal, animal you prefer.
If you’ve watched the bear grow, took care of it, spent time with it, fed it, gave it love, played with it, etc., you’ve most likely developed a special bond: you have learned to trust each other.
And now, no matter how big the bear (or lion) has become, it knows it can hurt you… but it doesn’t. Just like you know you can hurt him, but you don’t.
Sure, there are a few accidents here and there…. But never anything major. In general, you trust your bear friend, and it trusts you.
There are things you will (or should) never do to that bear because you know that if you do, your furry friend might stop trusting you, become aggressive, and possibly even hurt you.
Now, if that bear did hurt you one day, would that mean it ‘suddenly’ became a different bear? That it somehow changed personality overnight? Or that it became a monster one day after being an angel for the past 12 months?
No! You wouldn’t say that.
And do you know why?
Because you damn well know that you are dealing with a wild animal. Yes, you “know” him, but it’s still an unpredictable being, and there are a million reasons that could have led to his change of behavior.
… and here’s the catch
ANYTHING, ANYONE, ANY ANIMAL you think will not hurt you, still might. This is the way life goes: it’s uncertain. Nothing is EVER guaranteed, or static. Not even mountains.
And all things evolve.
And the same goes for trust.
The “problem” with trust
Merriam-Webster defines trust as “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength or truth of someone or something”.
And in Oxford languages, trust is the “firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something”
What I hear is that trust is at once a belief and a certainty (“assured”); something we believe to be true.
Here’s the thing, nothing in this world is certain, and a belief is definitely not a certainty. A belief is, by definition, something we accept to be true; it doesn’t mean that it is true.
Therefore, if nothing is certain and we don’t know that anything is absolutely true, then trust is simply assumptions that we make about a certain person, thing, or being. As such, trust simply refers to our own willingness to accept something as true or certain without proof.
So, in a sense, trust is not about the other person. Trust is about you and the assumptions you made about the other person.
Now, whether these assumptions are true or not remains to be tested every day for as long as there will be a link or connection between you two.
Trust is like an experiment that never ends.
What trust is and what it isn’t…
Trust does not mean that the other person will never hurt you
This is not the kind of assumption you should ever make about anyone, by the way.
Hell, even you hurt yourself constantly, and often you don’t even do it on purpose!
You are human, WE are humans and as such we make mistakes, are clumsy, have limited information (so we cannot make THE best decision every time), get tired, hungry, angry, scared, frustrated, insecure, etc.
Trust is not a given: it has to be worked for/earned every day
Someone can be worthy of your trust today and not be worthy of your trust tomorrow. In the same way, just because someone has hurt you today does not mean that they were not worthy of your trust for the past 10 years.
Trust is not immutable. It evolves constantly.
(Your) trust is not something you simply give to someone one day, and they just have it forever to do whatever they want with it until the end of time.
Trust should be earned. But it should be earned every day. Or almost…
Trust does not mean you should stop being vigilant
Trust is not an unlimited credit. Even your bank regularly does a quick credit check to make sure you still qualify for their … well, TRUST!
If a bank does that for something immaterial and “meaningless” like money, do you honestly think your emotional wellbeing and personal safety deserve any less attention and care?
Trust is not complacency
Don’t fall into the (comfortable but illusory) trap of uncritical satisfaction with yourself and “what you have”.
Trust does not mean blindly abandoning your judgement and fate to someone else and thinking they will always have your best interests at heart (the important word here is: always).
It’s not another person’s job to have your best interests at heart, and certainly not all the time (except perhaps your parents when you are at a very young age, but even parents don’t always have their children’s best interests at heart); that’s your job.
Hell! In the animal (and human) world, even mothers kill their own babies all the time.
In this world, you are always dealing with wild animals. This thought should always keep you on your toes.
Also, people change and their loyalty goes to themselves first
Not only do people change, but their needs constantly evolve too and you can’t always hold that against them, no matter how much it hurt you.
Also, just because someone has hurt you does not mean they were actively trying to hurt you. Perhaps they were only trying to do what’s best for them. And sometimes, doing that comes with collateral damage: You.
And you know what? Ultimately, people’s loyalty goes to themselves FIRST. Yes, sometimes, some of us are selfless, yes “heroes” exist, martyrs too… But in general, as living organisms on this earth, our survival instinct, i.e., self-preservation, is our most powerful drive.
Trust and forgiveness, a necessary pair?
Sometimes, in order to rebuild trust, forgiveness has to become part of the equation as well.
By refusing your forgiveness to someone who’s been sincerely trying to make amends for their mistakes, you are breaking their trust too.
Nobody’s perfect and people make mistakes. Did you think otherwise?
But yes, even if you do forgive, your trust will have to be earned back. And this time, it might take longer. And that too is okay.
There is always a risk
This goes for absolutely everything in life. To pretend otherwise is just denial and a waste of time.
Does that mean you shouldn’t trust? No, it doesn’t; you should trust! You need to. Life is all about taking risks, and humans need to cooperate to survive.
It’s either this or you are left living a half-life, or just… surviving.
Just because there might be a tsunami one day does not mean that this tribe’s 5 000 peaceful and happy years on this beach without ever seeing one were not worth it (that’s a fictitious example, but you get my point).
We shouldn’t let fear stop us from living, but it’s still important to acknowledge that anything can happen, and be prepared to face that.
By the way, a “risk” usually implies pain or death.
A note on pain, death, and acceptance
As mentioned previously, trust is a risky affair. And the risk is usually pain or death.
But here’s the thing, no matter how careful you are, you will suffer. And you will die. I know I said previously that nothing is certain. Well, I was wrong. One thing is: death. And pain.
Most humans live life trying to avoid pain (and death) at all costs, so when it comes, they have a hard time accepting it.
Honestly, the sooner you accept the pain in your life instead of trying to avoid it or deny that this or that happened to you, the quicker you can heal and move on.
Do you even trust yourself?
You should trust people; survival would be hard otherwise.
But you know what else makes survival hard? Not trusting yourself, not trusting your instinct when it tells you that something is wrong, and not having the guts to act on it.
And then you get stuck on the nasty game of blaming others, you know, those “responsible” for your pain.
But trusting ourselves is complicated too, because, well, sometimes we are wrong! And sometimes… we are not.
Did I mention that nothing is ever certain in this life? Thought I did. Also, we are humans and make mistakes constantly.
How can you honestly place such a burden and responsibility on someone else, when you don’t even rise to the challenge for your own self?
Why still trust then?
Trust is a gamble, but a necessary one.
Trust is the basis of cooperation between humans. Without trust, societies wouldn’t exist.
Yes, trust is a risk and the cost can be high.
But it’s a risk worth taking because, without trust, we only live a half-life. A life of fear, suspicion, paranoia…
A life where we would never experience beautiful friendships, discoveries, love…
A life where we would never see things like this:
Isn’t that the kind of thing that makes you feel like life is magic? Beautiful? Worth living?
A better way to trust?
There is a “bad way” of trusting people (or things), and there is perhaps a “less bad” way of doing it. But in both cases, there is no guarantee that you will not get hurt.
As explained in the previous section, I’d say blind trust without discernment is not very “smart”.
A better way of building trust would be to:
- get to know the other person’s (or other being’s) “nature” as best as you can. This implies observing the other person (or place, animal, etc.) for longer than two weeks, btw, and being genuinely interested in the other;
- Be realistic about their character; don’t let yourself be blinded by your ego or the smoke they blow up your ass;
- Be willing to accept that you will never be in the other person’s head no matter how hard you try to understand them;
- Do make a conscious choice, to trust or to not trust, but make the choice. Take ownership of your actions and decisions;
- Acknowledge that you are have limited information. Even if you wanted to, you could never make the absolute best decision because you have limited information. You don’t know everything and can’t predict what will happen. But you still need to function and make decisions every day, and so, you do your best. Just like it’s unfair to keep blaming others for hurting you, it’s also unfair to keep blaming yourself for not seeing what was happening;
- Alsways question and work to improve your judgement;
- Be prepared to clean up the mess when/if shit hits the fan;
- Learn to forgive, it’s better for your soul.
What’s the bottom line?
- Have trust; you need to.
- Trust does not mean that things won’t go badly. They might.
- Ultimately, trust yourself or learn how to do it better.
- Be prepared for the blow, it might come when you least expect it.
- If it comes, accept it, pick yourself up, learn, and move on.
- Forgive, if possible. It will make your life better.
- If the blow doesn’t come, cherish your good fortune.
- But keep your eyes open.