Thoughts for Thursday: Trust

I’m going to try to keep this as impersonal as possible…

…because I think I’ve made it pretty clear over the past couple of months of regular posting that I have trust issues. I don’t want to belabor the point. Suffice it to say that I feel like being lied to and manipulated is pretty much a fact of life, and we’re all on our own to figure out in what to believe and have faith. I know, it’s not exactly the content one focuses on if one is trying to build a brand as a positive and inspirational personality. It’s the truth, though.

So let’s break down the idea of trust, then.

"Who Do You Trust" meme with Jack Nicholson as the Joker from the 1989 Tim Burton Batman film.
Love that Joker!

Never let it be said that I shy away from the tough conversations! (Okay, that’s bullshit. I shy away from tough conversations daily.) In this instance, though, I’m ready to look the concept of trust straight down the barrel and spin the cylinder.

It starts with integrity.

Integrity is more than just “doing the right thing when nobody else is looking” as it’s so often defined. The broader definition of the word includes facets of strength, soundness of character, sturdiness, and trustworthiness. To throw out a few other synonyms, we could say it includes fidelity, credibility, credence, and credit.

Different definitions.

If I’m talking about a boat or a ship or a schooner or a sailboat (A schooner is a sailboat, stupid-head!), then the word integrity often refers to the vessel’s seaworthiness. In practice, it would be used like this: “The integrity of the Titanic’s hull was compromised after a collision with an iceberg.”

If I’m talking about a person, I would say something to the effect of “Tom’s integrity is without question; he’ll treat your car as if it were his own.” In both cases we’re talking about trustworthiness. Trust and integrity are inseparable.

A person with integrity holds true to her commitments. A person with integrity is the same person in private as he is in public. A person of integrity is faithful to her friends. A person of integrity says what he means and does what he says. A person displays integrity when she makes tough choices and stays disciplined in the face of temptation.

A tough mark to hit.

Okay – let’s be clear here. I’m defining the word. I’m not saying I have all of those qualities. I fail at a lot of those criteria quite often – some daily. Integrity is important to me, though, and I work on living up to that ideal every day, even if I fail.

Does that mean I’m untrustworthy?

The short answer is yes. Sometimes. In certain situations. I wish it were otherwise, but I’m a realist. Sometimes I give into temptation and fall way short of my own ideals. So sometimes I don’t do what I say I’m going to do (in fact, I’m pretty sure that’s my biggest character flaw), but I’m working on improving. Sometimes I’m dishonest, but I’m working on improving there, too.

The more complicated answer

The more complicated answer is that I’m no more or less trustworthy than anyone else on the planet, and that trust is not a static value. Everyone is fallible. To quote one of my heroes, the very fallible Roger Waters…

“When the sleigh is heavy / and the timberwolves are getting bold / You look at your companions and you decide to test / the waters of their friendship with your toes / And they significantly edge closer to the gold / ‘Each man has his price, Bob; and yours was pretty low.”

Roger Waters – “Too Much Rope” – Amused To Death – 1991

Can I depend on you?

Four US Navy firefighters handling a full pressure firehose as an instructor directs them.
Navy firefighters have to trust one another.

For a lot of us, the word trust is synonymous with honesty. While it’s true that honesty is an important component of trust, it’s not the only thing that makes up trust. In fact, sometimes you should trust a dishonest person and distrust the honest one. This seems contradictory, but it’s important to know, so let me give you a couple of examples other than Jack Sparrow… eh hem… excuse me… Captain Jack Sparrow.

Let’s start with trusting a dishonest person. I trust my therapist to lie to me until I’m ready to hear the truth. That’s part of her job, and if she does it right, I’ll never know she lied until it doesn’t matter anymore. I trust a doctor to lie to me if being honest will only bring me more suffering. These are situations in which these people have to be dishonest to do the right thing. They aren’t necessarily dishonest people, but they’re being dishonest at the time, and they’re trustworthy.

When honesty isn’t enough

When I was in the military, I was lucky enough to be a part of a really great shop (I was SATCOM maintenance in the Air National Guard). I learned a lot about trust during that time. Our shop had a very tightly-knit bond. However, we had an airman who wasn’t good at his job, and we had a very important inspection coming up. Now, this airman is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet, and he never gave me reason to believe that he was ever dishonest about anything. But in that situation, we couldn’t trust him.

I took over his job and learned it about two months before crunch time, and even though I was sick on the most important day of the inspection, I went out and did the job. Our unit earned a rating of “Outstanding” (the highest mark) overall, and I was later given the Air Force Achievement Medal for my part in that.

Now, I’m sure I told all kinds of lies and tall tales to my buddies in the Air Force when I was there, but when push came to shove, they knew they could count on me. That’s the thing with the military that a lot of people don’t understand – when it comes down to it, most troops fight for the person standing next to them than they do for the flag or an ideal. I’ve never been in combat, but know a lot of guys who have, and I’ve trained with them enough to realize that if you can’t trust the competence of the people fighting with you, it’d be incredibly hard to go out and face death every day.

Trust is also a two-way street.

I can’t trust you if you’re not going to be honest. However, I also can’t expect honesty from you if you can’t trust me. It’s a (culturally insensitive) standoff.

I’ve established that honesty and trust are not the same thing, but they’re still inextricably linked. It’s one thing if someone lies to you in a situation because its in your best interest (though still not always excusable), but it’s a whole other thing if a person shows a pattern of dishonesty. If you know somebody is usually lying, then you’re not going to believe most of what they say, and you’re not going to give them much trust. Again, this is a lesson I’ve had to learn the hard way.

On the other hand, being honest is a form of vulnerability. It’s laying yourself bare for others to dissect. Not a lot of people are able to break through that fear of vulnerability. That’s why people lie, to protect themselves or others. How can you expect someone to open themselves up and be honest with you – personally, professionally, or either, if you haven’t first earned their trust?

So how do we build trust?

What we’re left with is consistency. The way we judge the level of trust we can give another person is by watching them over time and seeing how consistent they are. Do they mean what they say? Do they keep their commitments? Are they there for you when you need them? Will they keep your confidence? The more time goes by, the more we learn what we can expect of people, and we build a picture of how much we can trust them.

Finally, I have to say, though I’ve tried to be “as impersonal as possible” with this post, I still feel very hypocritical having written all of it. The truth is, I am more dishonest than I’d like to be. I’m not nearly as consistent as I’d like to be. I’m also not as trusting as I’d like to be. I’m working on all of it, though. And, a little bit at a time, I’m getting there.

Have a great Thursday, everyone, and be sure to check back tomorrow for Fearless Friday. I’ll be writing about Memorial Day.

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2 thoughts on “Thoughts for Thursday: Trust

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