While teaching workshops, especially when I'm teaching about relationships, I am often asked, "How can I trust people," or "What do you do when someone betrays your trust?" And some will make the comment, "I've learned not to trust anyone."
It's a difficult topic to explain, mainly because so many people are confused about what it really means to trust someone.
In its most simple form, to trust someone is to have the confidence, faith, or expectation that a person will do what he or she has said they will do. That trust is considered misplaced or broken or betrayed (depending on how emotional one becomes about it) when the person does something else instead, regardless of any extenuating circumstances. So a child may wail endlessly to a parent that "You broke your promise!" even when a parent was not able to carry out a promise for a very good reason. However, it has to be said, a lot of people, sometimes including politicians, make promises with no intention of ever carrying them out.
A more complicated form of trust is when you expect people to behave in a certain way because they have always behaved in that way, or because they should behave in that way (according to the rules), or just because you want them to behave in that way, whether they have ever promised to do so or not. I know a number of people who have been disappointed or felt betrayed because I didn't do what they wanted me to do, or what they thought I should have done (without telling me beforehand, of course). And, I have to admit, there have been occasions when I have felt disappointed or betrayed when people didn't do what I expected or wanted them to do.
Both of these kinds of trust can be lost very easily if we blame others for how we feel about their behavior. It can also make it much more difficult for us to trust anyone else in the future, because most of us don't like to feel bad, and a lot of us are even afraid of feeling bad.
Since I believe strongly that we are all responsible for our own feelings, I decided to find a way to trust more and feel disappointed less. My solution may not be satisfactory for everyone, but I present it here in case some will find it useful.
First, I looked for a form of human behavior that was common to all people everywhere. What I found was that, invariably, all people everywhere will always do what they do. Therefore, that allows me to trust 100% that everyone will always do what they do, no matter what I may think or feel about it.
Second, I found that all people everywhere will always do what they believe is best for them. This gets a little more involved, because some people believe that following their own self interest is more important than anything else, some believe that doing what others want is also best for them, some believe that keeping promises is best for them, and on and on. Nevertheless, it means that I can trust 100% that people will always do what they believe is best for them, whatever that may be.
Third, as a consequence, it means that I cannot trust 100% that anyone will always do what I want or expect them to do. Or, to put it more positively, I can trust 100% that someone at some time will do something other than what I want or expect them to do.
When that happens I limit any feelings of disappointment by taking responsibility for those feelings and reminding myself of the first and second forms of behavior above (and I never use the emotionally-loaded word "betrayal" anymore). Then my next step is to make other plans that do not require specific people to do specific things.
As a result, I am able to maintain good friendships with people who didn't do what I wanted or expected because it didn't coincide with what they believed were their best interests, and even work with them in other areas where our interests do coincide. So, trusting people to keep their promises, to behave as expected, to do what they "should" do or what you want them to do is always a risk.
Trust is very important, to be sure. Our society and economy could not function unless a majority of the people involved did what was expected of them. As individuals, I believe that we can all function better if we understand how trust works and why, sometimes, it doesn't.
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