What’s Your Smallest Unit of Trust?

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“Don’t you trust me?” he asked.

It made me wonder. Did I trust him?

Yes, of course. I trusted him as a person. But here was a delicate situation where a blanket trust did not mean he was the best person to handle it. He did not have the right skills, empathy or sensitivity. So I mumbled something vague about having a contextual advantage and took over the leadership of the situation. Even though I managed to diffuse the situation, it left me wondering….do I really trust him?

What do I mean when I say I trust someone and yet am unable to trust them with “everything”? Is it not contradictory?

What is it that we trust in a person? Is it a quality? Tendency? Or is it a blind and wishful “commitment” to trust that we later maintain faithfully , no matter what — just so we can feel justified? Is it a person we trust or a quality inside the person? Do we “trust the people we like” or do we “like the people we trust”?

Human beings are complex. We are capable of being reliable yet inconsistent, lovable yet hateful, sensible yet insufferably foolish, proud yet needy — all at the same time. So I find it increasingly easier to trust a quality in a person rather than a whole person and label them — “trustworthy” or “not trustworthy”. This approach leaves some room for further understanding, willingness to adjust, personal growth and relationship building.

A woman scared of roaches might be the first to throw herself in front of an oncoming vehicle to save her child. Is she brave suddenly? Was she a coward before? Was it bravery that motivated her action or was it love? Would I trust her with “my” life? Is she trustworthy or not?

A guy enlisting in the army has to have courage. While I trust him to keep the country safe, would I equally trust him to handle a delicate situation like facing a family member on their deathbed? The same quality of love that made the woman in the previous example brave is what might make this guy lose his nerve. So is he brave or not? Is he trustworthy or not?

I’ve had many such baffling experiences in my life. People I thought were kind and loving turned cold and distant in my hour of need. People I thought would stand by me were the first to feel awkward and exit the scene. People I considered harsh and judgmental were the ones who offered me help.

I still didn’t trust them with EVERYTHING, but I learned to trust that particular trait in them — empathy, helpfulness. Then I learned to tailor my trust to match that quality. I didn’t have to trust them entirely to trust them for this quality. It made me flexible and more accepting of grey areas in people and life. This is what I mean when I say my smallest unit of trust is no longer a person, but a quality.

Because a quality is just that. Honest is honest. Practical is practical. Friendly is friendly. But what happens when these are all played out against one other in a given situation? Which of the qualities wins and which one determines how a person behaves in the end?

What determines how a person behaves in a situation is a complex equation — solved for a different value each time.

That’s why I no longer use my trust as a blanket to cover one person at a time. Rather, I use it as a shapeshifting parameter — it may fit one quality in one person and another in someone else. It helps me relax and get less rigid about how I evaluate and predict people, situations and my relationships. It makes me try harder with people.

I no longer believe in the idea that “you either trust someone or you don’t”. I’d like to change this to “you either trust this trait/habit/quality in this person or you don’t”. It feels like a more reliable approach.

How about you? What’s your smallest unit of trust?



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Hi! I write about things I learn in life. The funny thing is I am constantly learning. And unlearning. There’s no reason anyone should ever stop doing that :-)