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THE MEANING OF TRUST

by Greg Lewin


We are not suffering a crises of immigration, fake news, climate change or election fraud we are suffering a crises of trust. We debate these incredibly important subjects armed with facts, reason and logic but without trust these armaments are useless because we can barely hear each others words.


Perhaps the biggest problem we face in developing trust is the fact that few of us really understand the meaning of trust. If we were to Google the definition of trust it would read: the firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability or strength of someone or something. The problem with this definition is that trust is far more than belief. Consider the trust fall. This a common exercise used to build trust in all kinds of organizations. You close your eyes, fold your arms across your chest and fall back into the arms of another without any guarantee that they are either present, willing or able to catch you before you crash to the ground without any protection. Belief is the feeling when you volunteer to participate. Trust is when you let yourself go. Trust requires that we take risk, belief does not, and that makes all the difference in the world.


When a person chooses to offer their trust, the person is engaged in the most comprehensive expression of human risk taking. To trust requires that we are willing to make ourselves truly vulnerable to another. Sure it involves assessments of integrity, strength and ability, but it goes far beyond conscious choice. It taxes our intuitve judgements. It calls upon our reservoirs of evolved histories and acquired knowledge to look beyond the rational and address such compelling personal needs as hope, belief and faith. It calls upon all we know, believe and feel to attach ourselves to persons or things inorder to help us achieve that which is currently beyond our grasp.


The opposite of trust is control. By definition, trust is the act of surrendering our personal power to another. Control is the act of exercising our personal power over another. Trust is about risk taking control is about risk avoidance. When I say “I love you,” I am willing to accept that you may not offer your love in return. However, if I was a person who is fearful of a loss of control I may never offer my love until the other person choses to take the risk first. Trust demands that we turn toward risk, control cautions us to turn away. In one case a person is willing to face the pain of rejection in return for the possibility of a lifetime of love. In the other case, the pain of rejection is so frightening that they willingly accept the loss of such a great prize. Our disposition to trust changes our behavior, decisions and our perception of the world we live in.


Trust is not just an act of vulnerability. Think of trust as our most precious personal commodity. It is our personal gold standard. It is a thing of extraordinary value, yet its value may be hard to measure. It is traded with caution but offered willingly when fair value is gained. It can be a definition of worth, but it is a worth measured by infinite measurements. Above all else, the offer of trust is amongst the most complex calculations we use to advance our self interests. We know this because when our trust is broken it hurts and things the cause us pain are given extraordinary priority because they are definition matters of survival.

With all this in consideration I created a definition of trust that I could trust:

TRUST IS THE PRESENT OFFER OF SOMETHING OF PERSONAL VALUE IN EXCHANGE FOR SOMETHING OF GREATER EXPECTED VALUE IN THE FUTURE WITHOUT THE BENEFIT OF GUARANTEES OR ASSURANCES.


At the core of this definition I discovered the subtlety of trust that makes our relationship with this force of human connection so difficult to navigate. Trust is not about the substance of the exchange, trust is about the expectations for the exchange. Trust requires that all parties involved in the transaction are reading from the same playbook. I need to know how you value what I have to offer right now and then I must rely on you to return something of greater value to me at some later date. And the longer it may take, the greater the value I would expect in return. A job or marriage are great examples of trust contracts. And so many of these relationships fail, not because of failed intentions but because of misunderstood expectations. You and your boss may agree that your work has been exceptional but if your boss has one idea of what a raise or promotion should look like and you have a very different set of expectations, the trust contract doesn’t have a chance. The same goes with a marriage.


The way we relate to each other may not exactly align with what each of us expects after the vows have been said. The intentions may be sound but the expectations may not.

We spend lifetimes of energy and effort trying to become people worthy of trust in order to advance our self interests. And we spend an equal amount of time developing our ability to judge the trustworthiness of others so that we may align with those who can advance our self interests. But how many of us carefully inspected the expectations that are held by all the interested parties. When we are sad, angry, fearful, disappointed or stressed how many of us ask “What was I expecting?” And if we were able to find the answers to that question, how many of us follow up by asking “Why was I expecting that?” EXPECTATIONS ARE THE DRIVING FORCE OF THE TRUST CONTRACTS THAT WE ALL RELY UPON TO FORM THE HUMAN CONNECTIONS WE NEED AND DESIRE.


Spending far more time understanding the expectations we and others bring to the relationships we rely upon may be the most productive thing we do to restore our ability to trust and connect. Nothing could be more important.