On Trust

Mar. 11th, 2012 09:49 pm
coffeebuzz: (Default)
[personal profile] coffeebuzz
I've always been the sort of person who prefers to believe the best about people -- individually and collectively -- rather than the worst.

You might call me a cockeyed optimist, or say that my faith in humanity is misplaced. You might call me naive, I suppose, although after close to half a century on this planet I think that might be stretching things a bit. I've witnessed, heard of and directly experienced plenty of things that would certainly provide justification for an absence of trust, or at least a large dose of skepticism over the existence of mankind's better nature, etc. That is, if I were willing to allow myself to become jaded.

But, you see, that's the point. I'm not willing to let that happen.

I approach the concept of trust with my eyes open. I know that people don't always do right by one another. I've experienced this myself. And I know that it is so easy to say one thing and do something completely different. Again, I've experienced this -- from both sides, sadly. Oh, I won't deliberately make a promise and then renege, but I've had circumstances change and prevent me from carrying through on things. I feel awful every time it happens, too... and I prefer to believe that other people feel bad when they can't follow through on things they've promised me. Even though I  know that some folks don't even bat an eye, whether on the giving or receiving end of the equation, I have to believe that most people will try to do what they say they will, and won't take any pleasure in failing to do so. That they might even feel guilt over it.

In short, I believe that honor is a virtue, and I sincerely believe that I am not the only person who sees it thus. Honor is a virtue, as is trustworthiness... but each of those things requires its complement to function. Trustworthiness might as well be invisible if no one is willing to place their trust in you. And honorable people are best perceived by those who recognize honor and appreciate it. As the Russian playwright and author Anton Chekhov famously wrote: "You must trust and believe in people, or life becomes impossible." Life is difficult enough without the need to carry a heavy burden of suspicion; surely it would be impossible if I were to add that to my load. And so, I don't.

I can hear the question going through your mind. "But CB, how can you trust everyone? Hasn't anyone ever deliberately abused your trust? And once that happens, can you seriously continue to give it to the other people you meet?" Don't get me wrong. I've had my trust abused countless times. I've had everyone from parents and teachers to friends and lovers break promises. I've been cheated on by lovers, lied to and about by friends; hell, I had an abusive boyfriend when I was a young college student. Talk about things that will erode one's trust! Believe me, plenty of stuff has happened in my life, and I have no illusions about living in some happily-ever-after world where everything and everyone is perfect.

And yet...

You see, I am a whole person. I came into this world a whole, entire person, and I am determined to remain that way. No one can change me without my permission. And I have not given anyone permission to take away from me the ability to trust, which I feel is one of my most precious possessions. I refuse to become jaded, to become less than who I am meant to be, or to allow anyone to leave me less whole than I was when they first crossed my path.

Cautious? Sure; I know how to be cautious. I understand how to protect myself against those who would take advantage of me and of my trusting nature. But in each and every situation, I have to weigh the cost of those safeguards against the cost of having my trust abused. That weighing is what determines the extent to which I am willing to go to protect myself. And if that protection is likely to also prevent me from fully experiencing the potential good in an encounter or interaction or new friendship, that's a pretty high price. Granted, if someone has given me reason to expect that they will take advantage of me, then I generally will be on my guard. But if I know a person, or am getting to know them and they have given me no cause to mistrust them, then my default setting is to trust, at least within reason.

I also believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt when appropriate. We all make mistakes, and I would certainly hope that others would be lenient with me as regards the ones I make. However, I can hardly ask others to grant me a leniency that I myself am not willing to give. Therefore, I do my best to look for the best in others, as I would hope they will do when looking at me.

Going out into the world each day, mindful of the fact that we are all human, all of us at one and the same time both flawed and yet perfect... for the state of being flawed is natural to us, and therefore we would be imperfectly natural without it... this is what it is to retain one's own full self, I think. And trust is a big part of that.

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