A couple of situations lately have spawned one of those internal conversations I mentioned in the “about this site” page, this one about trust: what kinds there are, why you need it, and how to get it. It’s not intended as a lecture – more like a reflection on why I can’t deliver all the lectures I’d like to. Or something. So here it is, so I don’t have to mentally explain this again.
Sometimes people assume that they’ve been insulted if someone doesn’t trust them. This might in fact be the case, but the question “don’t you trust me?” may be pretty presumptuous, depending on the context. First of all, there are two different kinds of trust – character trust, where you believe a person will do the right thing in a given situation, and competency trust, where you believe that a person can accomplish a particular task. The concepts are orthogonal; for instance, you might trust your nephew to babysit your kids, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to let him drive your car.
The level of either type of trust that you give someone is based on circumstances and experience. Let’s consider the character type. Some people are more trusting than others by default, but everyone has a certain level of trust that they give random people in a given situation. This trust level could range from trusting someone to not attack you to trusting them with your social security number – or trusting them to help raise your family. (Or, like in the case of God, to override your personal preferences in how you live your life. If we all trusted God that much all the time, most of our problems would go away. But that’s a different topic.) The situation is important, because when you pass a stranger in a dark alley, you might not trust them to not attack you, whereas if you pass the same person in a grocery store, you probably trust them at least enough to not sabotage the groceries in your cart when you turn your back. After you start spending time with someone, the trust level goes up or down as people confirm or deny the assumptions you have made about them, and as you give them a chance to “try out” at a higher level of trust. But the important thing here is that it takes time.
It especially takes time to reverse the effect of broken trust. The gospel teaches that we should forgive everyone, but it doesn’t say that we should withhold consequences, and I think that a lack of trust is a legitimate consequence for some things. Like if someone robs a bank and later repents (and gets out of jail), you may be able to befriend them, but you probably won’t let them housesit for you. It doesn’t mean you hate them or don’t forgive them; it just means that they haven’t earned that level of trust with you. There’s nothing wrong with that. Of course, there’s also nothing wrong with not trusting someone with your home if they haven’t done anything particularly wrong, which again is the point: trust has to be earned – and proven.
So, some implications:
- Delivering constructive criticism: If someone doesn’t trust your motive, you can’t really help them by pointing out something they could improve. If they think you’re just being a jerk (even if you’re trying to be polite), or if they’re so embarrassed that they can’t imagine that you still respect them, they might just end up focusing on being mad or offended or hurt or apologetic instead of making the needed improvement.
- Fake relationships: I’m thinking online stuff and text-messaging-intensive friendships here. If you don’t interact enough to prove reliability (both in what you do and how you react to what others do), you can’t really develop the trust that it takes to form a deep relationship.
- Teasing/Sarcasm/In-jokes: Lots of relationships use this kind of thing as an expression of closeness, but if you try to pull it off with someone who doesn’t feel close to you, it will probably come across as offensive.
… to name a few. I guess the corollary of all this is that it can be important to develop trust broadly, so that you can say what you need to say when the need arises. And that could mean going out of your way to be helpful, compliment people, and just being friendly in general. And of course learning skills and finding ways to use them, so you can have the competency kind of trust too.