Note: Posting this Social In Global Network column to add it to the Writer’s Library, On Writing…
We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light. ~Plato
I started out this morning with the idea to write an article on trust. Right now, trust is something we’re all struggling with, so I thought it’d be wise to work on it. I looked to something I love for inspiration: quotes.
To my horror, the first twenty that popped up on the list were ones about not trusting and why you shouldn’t. Listen, I’m no Pollyanna, and I attended the “trust but verify” school, but never in my life have I seen such cynics. Whether the topic is friendship, money, dreams or your future, these people are saying don’t trust anyone with anything at any time. How in the world they expect you to live your life reasonably balanced without trusting something, somewhere—someone? I have no idea, but I expect it’s going to be a life absent of much that makes life worth living. Things like joy and love and real relationships and friends.
That’s no kind of life at all! And it set me to thinking about trust and trusting, and about being trusted. Here are some of those thoughts:
There’s a difference in trust and blind trust. And that’s a significant point. In a world fraught with corruption and greed, blind trust is foolish. Too many, from leaders on down, have proven they’re not worthy of trust. But that doesn’t eliminate trust. It still exists. It just means we are charged with being judicious. That means, who we trust and under what circumstances we trust them should be a conscious decision.
Not so long ago, as a society, we were united in values. While we had our differences, we all pretty much felt the same things were right and wrong. Today, due to political correctness, the decline of family and its significant and important roles in our lives, and due to the disdain that has become all too common for religion and its precepts, as well as the absence of leaders driven by strong morals and integrity and personal codes of conduct, we find ourselves muddy and muddled with few from whom to take cues. More’s the pity on that.
But the responsibility remains and rests where it always has—with each of us. No matter what happens in our childhoods, there comes a time when we become adults. We’re no longer limited to the lessons learned at the knee of our childhood authority figures, and we’re exposed to many, many others, all of whom we deem to be good or bad people.
We are free to adopt the traits we admire in others, and to reject those we don’t admire. This means, as adults—even if we had horrific childhoods with no parental guidance—we go through a learning curve. We see and experience things we want in our lives, and ones we never want to see or experience again. In other words, we mature and grow up.
As a mature, young adult, we make choices. We decide what we believe, what we respect, what we admire. We take our stands on being honest, having integrity, what we will and will not do. We choose all of this and more every day, and the choices we make define our character, and our character defines the life we have chosen to live. It defines who we are and who we choose to become.
So if you’re using what happened to you as a kid as an excuse for poor character, know it’s an excuse. If you’re rationalizing your behavior or conduct, know you’re rationalizing. Right and wrong haven’t changed or ceased to exist. Good and evil still engage in battle all day every day across the globe and inside each of us. You have to constantly choose your side and your choices create the reality of your life. You make your place.
You’ll live with the decisions you make forever. Oh, you can change your mind, discover something you’ve done or haven’t done, you regret and change your behavior. But it doesn’t undo your past. That must be accepted. Responsibility for it must be taken—and it’s yours. You must do your best to make restitution for your wrongs. And then, with a clear mind and conscience, you can move forward, wiser for the experience. Without restitution, you remain trapped. Not so much by others as by yourself. You can’t forget it, can’t work past it. Often, we commit wrongs and want to hide them so no one else ever knows. That doesn’t work. It never has and never will. The truth always comes to light, and because that’s true, it’s better if we carry it to the light, do our best to resolve issues created, and then we’re free to press on. Remember the old saying, “The truth will set you free?” Well, it got to be an old saying because it’s true. Accept that, too.
Trust is a fragile thing. Once broken, it’s broken and gone. You might seek and find forgiveness, but the level of trust regained will never rise to the level it held before you broke it. Any future event that calls your trustworthiness into question raises doubt. That doubt might be soft as a spring rain or as persistent as a torrential downpour, but it’s there, gnawing and casting shadows. It eats right through to where the original breach of trust occurred. If it happened once, it can happen again. Is it? I’m just not sure…
So be careful of doing things that can’t be undone. Broken trust can be healed, but never without scars. That’s worth remembering.
We understand this and yet we know that to experience joy or love requires trust. We can’t and don’t want to forfeit those things in our lives. That raises the question: How do we find the right balance between being foolish and wise?
Since we have the blessing of being able to learn from others—there’s no need to step in every single mud-puddle ourselves, I’ll share a few tips from my father. He was a man who had every reason never to trust anyone, and yet he did trust. Judiciously.
TIPS FROM MY FATHER
1. Never trust anyone who says, “trust me.” A person worthy of trust doesn’t have to ask for it. Their character warrants you choose willingly to give it.
2. Don’t lie, cheat or steal, and treat others the way you want to be treated. If you respect them, they’ll respect you, and if they don’t, don’t trust them.
3. Hear what people say, but watch what they do. If a man gets too much change from a clerk at the store and gives it back, that’s an honest man. If he doesn’t, you can’t trust him. His moral compass is cracked. People who cheat on small things will cheat on all things, including you.
4. Embrace integrity. Live it. Breathe it. You do that and you’ll be respected and trusted. Remember, you can’t have a little integrity any more than you can be a little bit pregnant. You either do or don’t. Have it or not. Are or are not pregnant. No shades of gray there!
5. If you’re going to do it, do your best. Treat your responsibilities for work with the same care as if whatever you are doing belonged to you and you alone. When you give your best, you show respect and that inspires trust.
6. Never violate trust. When, for example, someone tells you a secret, they’ve shared a burden with you. Carrying their burden is hard for you, and for them because now someone else knows their secret. Once told, a secret can’t be untold. But you listened to the secret and are therefore obligated to carry the burden of it and never violate the trust placed in you by revealing it to another living soul. Violated once, your word no longer holds value. It isn’t your bond, it means nothing. Your character is diminished. You were tested and you failed, and that violation of trust is what will be associated with you from then on.
7. Hiding mistakes breaches trust. We’re all human and we all make mistakes. When you do, accept responsibility for them, do your best to repair any damage, and then forgive yourself and move forward, wiser for the experience. We’re all going to make mistakes. Even if we do due diligence, we will err. That’s human, forgivable. What isn’t forgivable is lying to cover up your mistakes. Spinning the truth—spinning is a euphemism for lying—to avoid suffering the consequences of your actions. We’re seeing way, way too much of that these days. It doesn’t change the truth, but it does undermine and erode trust. In some situations, obliterate it.
8. Be slow to trust. Judicious in whom you trust. While everyone and everything deserves respect and we should grant it, we are not compelled to immediately trust anyone. Gauge the individual by his or her actions. Words alone don’t show you the true colors of a person. Seeing how someone react to events, how s/he treats others, speaks of others in their presence and behind their backs—these things show you the manner and nature of the man or woman. Trust, like respect, is earned. But once given, it strengthens as we’re tested by experiences and life itself.
I remember once my dad telling me that I knew a lot of people for a kid my age but to be careful who I trusted. When I got to the end of my life, I’d be able to count them on one hand with fingers left over. And if I had more fingers up than down, I’d been blessed.
I thought he’d lost his mind. Or that my generation was a lot better at social interactions. But the older I get, the more I realize that my trusted inner circle truly is quite small. I know many, many people. I like many, many people. Even love many, many people. But I trust wholeheartedly very few people. I have fingers left on one hand.
That set me to wondering why. Once I was the wide-eyed innocent who saw every glass as half-full and everything through off-the-charts idealism. That girl, of course, grew up, and due to observations and experiences became somewhat cynical and jaded.
Nothing teaches not to trust like betrayal. Disloyalty. Dishonor. Disrespect. Being used. Abused. Sacrificed. Cheated on. Lied to. Lied about. All that, and everything else ugly that can be done to a person, kills idealism.
But that doesn’t mean we should give in to unfettered cynicism and see all things as jaded. It means that we must look at things and people realistically, call them as we see them, and hold ourselves to the standards we hope to find in others.
From all this, I’ve come up with a few tips of my own to share:
1. Say what you mean and mean what you say. No spin, no lies, no misdirection. Speak plainly and clearly and truthfully. If you draw a line in the sand and it’s crossed, don’t move the line. You must live the courage of your convictions.
2. No excuses for mistakes. Take the hit, repair, and move on. Maybe the dog did eat your homework, but it was your responsibility to keep the homework in a safe place where the dog couldn’t get to it to eat it.
3. Respect everything and everyone until they give you a reason not to respect them. Then distance yourself. You are the company you keep, and what you condone, you own.
4. Betrayal can be done in innocence as well as by deliberate action. If someone you trust breaches it, discover whether it was an innocent or deliberate action. Innocent is a mistake. Deliberate is a violation. Big difference.
5. When in doubt, call the question. Rather than accuse, stew or wonder, just call the question. The response often settles any doubt.
6. Trust your instincts. If your instincts warn you someone is lying, dishonest or isn’t trustworthy, listen. We pick up on subliminal messages all the time, and ones that we consciously ignore but that feed directly into our subconscious minds where they’re stored for the duration. The subconscious doesn’t forget, and those niggles are those ignored memories being tapped. That or our Guardian Angels tapping them so we don’t get ourselves into trouble. Either way, a tap warrants listening to your instincts.
Trust is fragile, and once broken, it’s broken. It can heal, but not without scars. If you want to trust, then you must be trustworthy. So start with yourself. Become the person you most admire and respect and want to trust. Until you trust yourself, you’re not ready to trust anyone else. And when you are ready, trust but verify. Assure yourself that those in whom you place your trust are worthy of such an important gift.
Plato said it best: “For a man to conquer himself is the first and noblest of all victories.” When you think about it, that one quote covers a lot of turf, doesn’t it? Simply put:
To be trusted, be trustworthy.
Vicki Hinze is the award-winning bestselling author of nearly thirty novels in a variety of genres including, suspense, mystery, thriller, and romantic or faith-affirming thrillers. Her latest releases are: Christmas Countdown (romantic suspense), Duplicity (mystery/thriller), One Way to Write a Novel (nonfiction). She holds a MFA in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in Philosophy, Theocentric Business and Ethics. Hinze’s website:Facebook. Books. Twitter. www.vickihinze.com. Newsletter. Notice New Releases.