I have been thinking about trust lately, and thought I’d ramble a bit in this post about the subject.
When it comes to trust, people tend to speak in absolute terms: you either trust someone or you do not. While this is true, there are also degrees of trust. On the low end, I trust the person behind me in traffic will not start shooting at me for no apparent reason. On the high end, I have a great deal of trust in my family and close friends.
Trust can also be rather specific in nature. For example, a person might be trusted in certain areas and not so much in others. For example, a bank employee might be trusted with her till, but not trusted enough to have access to the vault. As another example, you might trust a person with your money but not with a chocolate cake (they might be unable to resist that temptation).
One of the things I find most interesting about trust is how it is earned. The term “trustworthy” seems to clearly indicate a belief that people can be worthy of trust. This presumably means that they have the qualities that justify placing faith in them.
Being trustworthy seems to be quite distinct from being trustable (able to be trusted). After all, people often trust others who end up not being trustworthy. Scammers and con artists, if they are successful, are obviously trustable. They are, however, obviously not trustworthy.Trustworthy people are sometimes not trusted; often because people can be poor judges of who to trust. Sorting out who is trustworthy from those who are merely trustable can be quite challenging-especially since some untrustworthy people work very hard at being trustable.
Not surprisingly, it is very important to sort out the trustworthy from the merely trustable. The trustable are often out to take things from other people via deception. Obvious examples include con artists, internet scammers and other such deceivers. Sorting these types out is also important in relationships. One obvious example is discerning between a person who will be faithful and someone who will be a cheater.
As with most decision making, people tend to base their trust on emotional factors-how they feel about the other person. This helps explain how people can often be easily deceived by the trustable. Having taught critical thinking for years, I can attest to the fact that it is fairly easy to manipulate the emotions of most people-especially for those who lack scruples. One obvious example is tapping into greed. The famous Nigerian scams rest on this: the victim trusts the con artist because of his own greed. Another example is fear. Political leaders often manipulate this emotion to get the people to put their faith in them.
Naturally, most people believe that they can see through attempts to trick them. This fact is, of course, relied on by those who make their way through life by deceit. Most people are rather bad at sorting such things out and it is not uncommon for people to trust those they should not and not trust those they should.
Reason can be a big help here. Objectively and rationally assessing the other person’s qualities, behavior and motivations can go a long way in assessing their trustworthiness.
That said, how we feel about other people is also important-but feeling is generally not an effective guide to determining who is trustworthy and who is not. Feeling just tells us how we feel about the person and does not tell us whether we should feel that we trust her or not.
I plan to write more on this subject and in more detail-including some practical advice for sorting people out.