Trust, Freedom and Relationships

August 18, 2005

I consider myself a very trusting person. Not oblivious, but perhaps hopelessly optimistic. I mean this on a very basic level. When I leave my house to go running, I don’t lock it. If I go jump in the lake, I’ll ask the people I’ve never met before, who are sitting next to me, to watch my belongings. I try not to err on the side of being completely careless, but I try to count on the goodwill of humans. I think this is especially true of people I meet. Once I greet those people sitting next to me at the park, to me, they are no longer random, and I tend to trust them a lot more to watch my stuff. I feel that once you create that human connection, its less likely that someone will act maliciously toward you.

I think this phenomenon is easily pointed out when you are driving. If you try to merge over and need the people next to you to give you room… a blinker might not always do it. However, stick your hand out, wave, or catch eye contact with the person, and they are much more likely to let you in. I believe this is because its easier to be mean to an inanimate object than a human. The car is just a car, but when you add that human element, it becomes someones car.

Now, this trust comes at a price. Eventually, you may trust someone (or people in general) and you may be betrayed. It happens. Not all people are good. Some may say that being cautious seems like a better way to act, in order to protect yourself from betrayal, but when you start becoming less trusting, you begin to lose your personal freedoms.

When I don’t lock my house, I have the freedom to go running without holding my keys. When I put down my coat in a bar, I risk someone taking it, but I am free to wander about without my coat. More importantly, I’m free to wander about without worrying about my coat. I believe that the mental freedom I get from being trusting, is worth the risk of being betrayed.

I should point out that my examples so far have been mostly centered around losing belongings (losing money)… and I’m willing to trade that. I’m a bit more conservative (but still quite trusting) when it comes to risking my health and safety. I believe you can’t become overly cautious or you’ll never leave your house. However, when it comes to safety, I am also aware that as a 6’2”, athletic male, I have less to worry about than a single, smaller female.

I think the inconveniences you put up with to protect yourself from people who might betray that trust (rob or harm you) are generally quite small (lock your house, keep your stuff with you, don’t walk alone at night in sketchy areas…) However, the mental effort in having to worry about all these possible bad situations is very taxing.

A clear example of this are the 9/11 attacks and terrorism that has plagued the US over the last few years. I say plagued because whether or not we being attacked repeatedly, the one attack was enough to make us extremely cautious. That loss of trust resulted in a loss of our freedoms, and that is what terrorism is all about. Terrorism is not about harming a lot of people, its about instilling fear. The 9/11 attacks successfully did just that.

There is a parallel here relating to relationships. Relationships are about trust. You trust your friend with your secrets, your stories, your emotions. You trust them to receive these and not take advantage of, or exploit this more vulnerable side.

People who assume familiarity and trust tend to form relationships faster than those who are less trusting and less assuming. The risk is being burned by someone you open up to, who does not reciprocate, or doesn’t eventually become a close friend. However, it’s completely worth it. With those relationships that don’t work out, the feelings and information you shared with the other person usually lose value to them, so they have no reason to exploit it, or to hurt you.

Nevertheless, it still takes a lot of trust to make the first step. Trust in relationships tends to be reciprocal. If you display trust by opening up, usually that triggers a mutual sense of trust with the other person. It’s unfair to expect someone to open up to you if you haven’t already done the same. You can drive your relationships by being the first mover, being the first person to trust.

Trust is the invisible fabric that weaves society together. Relationships, both with those we know, and those we don’t know, are always stronger if you establish trust by assuming it is already there.