There is a worldview that believes that humans can eventually perfect society and individuals. If we could just implement the latest innovation, a better government system or better education, paradise will result.
The person who believes they will be major part of that “progress” is delusional, though some improvements are possible. A better attitude is that of humility, knowing we will make mistakes and being willing to admit them. This goes much further to gain trust than making claims impossible to fulfill.
Humility allows the person to grow, learn, and be better as a result. It is refreshing to see the leader who can be approached about a bad idea or an inappropriate direction. That leader will learn more than if they believe they are already right.
When I was growing up in a small town, and something was stolen or vandalized, there truly was a rather short list of “usual suspects”. That’s simply because the vast majority of people would not do those things. Law enforcement officers proceeded with those suspects in mind, and usually would locate the culprit. Even they were trustworthy to the point that they would usually admit to the wrongdoing. It was sort of understood. It was also the case that no one was really in personal danger from these people. At least that’s the way I remember it. I never feared those who stole.
How can that be? It’s simple: any misdeeds had to do with property, not people. The people who tended toward illegal activity would not harm people, especially those in our town. There were times when people did fight, but only those who wanted to. I remember primarily fights when both combatants wanted to fight. Seldom was it a one-sided affair. Again, there was an understanding that only those who chose to be rowdy would do so. Otherwise, we would be left alone.
This may seem like a backward way to look at trust, but I remember these practices being consistent, so it was a safe place to be. This has also been called a social contract, something that is sorely lacking today.
I have never learned anything by talking. I don’t teach myself when I’m the one speaking. On the other hand, I learn much by listening to others. It is amazing how much we learn from others, even when we didn’t expect it.
When we learn to listen to another person, we gain trust. If we are able to let them know we are genuinely interested in what they have to say, they will usually say more than they expected. Each moment we allow that to happen, we also incur the responsibility to guard their story. They may be confiding in us things they have told no one else. If we pass those things along, trust will be broken immediately. If they give us permission to convey their story to another appropriate person, then we may.
It’s not necessary for us to agree with everything we hear, and listening does not imply agreement. It is simply granting another person the dignity to listen to them. What people need is a good listening to. This will take practice for most of us, but it is well worth doing.
It’s easy to get the impression that few people can be trusted today. We often look back on earlier times and lament the fact that once many people were trustworthy, but now it isn’t so. Yet, all is not lost.
I have neighbors, co-workers and family who can be trusted. I have worked with people whom I would trust with my house, car, family and everything else, because they proved their worthy of trust. I have experienced the peace of relying on those around me to watch my back if I get into trouble. Those same people would also tell me not to get into trouble, because they care.
If we don’t allow news stories to paint an unbalance picture, we will see trustworthy people. Not all elected officials, not all preachers, not all coaches, and not all corporate executives are dishonest. In fact, we do not hear about those in all fields who prove ethical and do their best day in and day out, for years. Yet, they are here, and should be recognized by we who need them.
There may be some dramatic instances when trust is obtained nearly instantly, such as with a selfless, heroic act. But, such is rare and not the usual way to gain trust.
How is trust gained? We don’t like the answer, because it’s a lot like patience; it takes time. It also takes work. It involves steady, consistent actions and words that over time show the character of a person. I have known people who nearly demand to be trusted with greater responsibility as soon as they earn a degree or begin a new job. They spend more time insisting the be trusted than they do earning it. Most of the time when trust is given before it is earned, the results are bad.
Wouldn’t we all like to be trusted, right now? It simply doesn’t happen that way. When we do it right, it’s worth is for all concerned.
I am regularly amazed at how, from all sides of the cultural spectrum, nearly every debate has degenerated into a debate about personalities. Things are entirely too personal. In addition, there is not always an “enemy” to be defeated, especially in the debates and oral arguments that may be necessary. There are simply differences. Don’t get me wrong, it will not be possible for us to “all just get along”, at least not in this life.
What I believe we can do, in the area of trust, is bring the conversation to the level of ideas instead of individuals. I have seen more criticisms of individuals than critiques of principle or ideas. Admittedly this is easier, because in doing so we can name a name, without having to think about what they said, and address it. In any setting – work, church, government, politics or neighborhoods – we can talk about ideas without turning up the heat of attacks of persons. If we want to be heard, this is a necessity.
When others claim to be offended by an idea, at least they cannot claim we attacked them or their family personally. It also keeps the dialogue civil, and at least we have done our part to keep things in perspective.
Trust is much like truth in that it must be in something. Truth is no good for itself alone; it must be truth about something or someone. Neither is it relative. There is no “my truth” and “your truth”. There is only truth. We could both be wrong about it, or have our own opinions about it, but truth does not change.
In much the same way, trust must be in a person, a group of people, or someone higher. There is no such thing as simply having trust for its own sake. It is even narrower than truth, in that it is restricted to people or intelligence of a higher nature. So, if I say I trust a bridge enough to cross it, I’m really saying I trust those who built the bridge to use the right materials and architecture to make it safe.
In addition, we cannot simply trust a “system” or a “process”. Each is only as reliable as those who operate it. We are still ultimately talking about people or higher intelligence. What if – you ask – I trust a part of nature, such as the strength of a tree limb enough to crawl out on it? Isn’t that trusting a thing, instead of a personal entity? It might be, but only if you believe there is no intelligent designer behind that limb’s design. If I trust the north star to be guided by it, the same thing applies. I’ll let you decide that for yourself.
When I was growing up, we lived in a small farming community. While my family were not farmers, my dad grew up walking behind a mule guiding a plow. In fact, as I think about it, his entire family grew up farming, but none of them continued. My grandfather was the last to earn his living that way.
However, I did earn extra money picking cotton and chopping cotton and soybeans. Plus, nearly everyone I knew were farmers. I’ve tried to think about why things were so stable and dependable about that time and location. I have come to some conclusions.
Perhaps it was the compelling nature of farming that kept farmers from being lazy. They had to do certain things at certain times, or no crop would be harvested. When a crop was ready, it had to be gotten out of the field before the next rain, or it would take too long to get back into the sticky, wet clay. Also, when weeds threatened to take over, they had to be eradicated, then by hand. The required discipline for early mornings and late evenings brought stability to life. There is also the occasional hailstorm or flood that demanded flexibility to replant if needed. The sun and weather ask no permission from anyone to do as they please. Yet, these too are trustworthy.
There is at least one more characteristic of these people of trust. They took their time about everything, since too many things had to wait for nature’s schedule. Crops are not manufactured; they grow. They don’t grow unless they are planted, and they don’t get planted unless seeds are available. Once seeds are obtained, there must be someone to do the planting. All things have their time and place, so the steady flow of tasks made for a steady flow of results. Such is the nature of the building of trust.
Does trust have anything to do with morality? I believe it does, and here’s why. Without some basis for integrity, consistency, and character, who’s to say we will not change our stripes any time it’s convenient for us?
Not being consistent will mean others will not be able to have any basic expectation for how we will respond to a given situation. As a boss, I sought to first show my co-workers how I would respond to different challenges and daily routines so they would know what I expected. If they did differently, and could explain their reasons, all would be okay. If they could not, then that was a different story. Either way, they knew basically my expectations.
If others do not know which way you will bounce on a given day, they will begin to do what’s important to them on a given day. The lack of moral foundation could also mean anyone could lie, cheat or steal and justify it on the basis of practicality or just that “everyone does it”. Then chaos will develop, and no one will know what to expect.
Gaining trust sometimes means taking chances. The chances one takes are mostly with people. Personalities and temperaments are different, and a trustworthy person learns to gauge those differences.
There are never any guarantees on the outcome of putting trust in a person, but when done in good faith, the results can be better than expected. The key seems to be to do so gradually, giving responsibility in small doses, and seeing how they are handled. As the responsibilities grow, so does trust, both ways.
The rewards are also bilateral, and both the trusting and the one trusted can be very satisfied with the what happens. It is gratifying to see a person develop and grow into a bigger role in any organization. We need to learn it is okay, and even desirable, to work ourselves out of a job by teaching others to take it over.