How Important is Trust?

“Relax, Stevie, this won’t hurt.”

Early in his memoir, On Writing, and in his life, Stephen King described an experience with a doctor and his mother. King had an ear infection, so Mom took him to the doctor, who said the cure won’t hurt. The lying taker of the Hippocratic Oath (do no harm) busted King’s ear drum with a needle. Then it happened again, and again the child believed the doctor that it wouldn’t hurt. It did. A lot. Both times.

trust-7The third-time little Stevie acted like I would have. From the get-go, he raised holy hell before ever leaving home. Alas, young Stephen was over-powered and for a third time, the Prince of The Inquisition drove the needle through the boy’s ear drum. Over 40 years later, King wrote of the incident, “In fact, I think that in some deep valley of my head that last scream is still echoing.”

My daughter had a similar (one time) experience with a dentist. Unlike King’s mom, I let the dentist know how we felt about such lies. He apologized, so I let him live.

In God We Trust has been the official motto of the USA since 1956. The motto doesn’t identify any specific god and is singular; thus, it’s safe to assume that it refers to the God of Abraham. But, the phrase is still generic enough to apply to anyone who believes in a deity that:

  1. created the world,
  2. rules over the universe,
  3. and is omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent, and omnipresent.

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Yay, God! Congress said we trust you. Who wouldn’t trust all that? But the concept of trust does not begin and end with any god. Our trust is a belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something in our real-life world. It begins to develop before we have any concept of a god.

We’re social animals. Our trusting nature begins forming at birth, along with a conflicting mistrust. We are taught to trust (or not) by others. I agree with Erik Erikson that our first few years of life are crucial to what follows. Erikson theorized that during those first years, we are uncertain about the world around us. We look to our primary caregivers for stability and consistency. If the care is good, we develop a trust that we may carry to other relationships. We feel secure. How this goes leads to either hope or fear (or both?).

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Of course, if you’re reading this, you have the experience to know the outcome. We learn that trust and love make us vulnerable. Those we trust and those we love can cause us the greatest pain. We keep learning about trust, discernment, and that nasty (not-so-politically-correct) word: judgment. I’ve walked the halls of the school of life for seven decades and I’m still learning. I want to trust. Even more, I want good discernment skills. I’m skeptical, but only as precaution to disappointment, pain, loss, and suffering. Learning that I was mistaken to trust someone sucks. Lesson learned, but better to learn it allegorically.

Much of what we learn about trust and mistrust, we learn through stories, such as the Aesop’s Fable, The Boy Who Cried Wolf. The intended moral lesson of which is, if we lie enough, we may not be believed; even when we tell the truth (hence, trust lost). My daughter (yep, the ‘dentist lied’ one) recently found herself explaining why she misled her eleven-year-old son about Santa Claus.

Julie wouldn’t lie to him. But she knew that someday she’d be busted on the Kris Kringle myth, right? Wolf! Like most parents, she seldom lies, if at all, but how’s that trust thing working here? I told her we all go through that because our social tradition overwhelms us, so we play the Santa deception game until it’s time to fess-up. Everyone seems to be saying that the fat man in the red suit is real, who are we to say that it’s a big lie, but a cute tradition?

trust-8Note to my grandchildren: There are things I’ll not tell you, but I may confirm or deny what you ask. There are things I will tell you only if you ask. There are things I will defer until I think you’re old/mature enough. But I will not intentionally deceive you without just cause. Sometimes, I’ll defer to your parents, other times, I will not. I’ve earned the privilege to be either cooperative or difficult. ~ Love, Opa

When someone teaches us, we usually trust that it’s what they believe, and that it’s correct. We assume that people who teach us (teachers, parents, family, ministers, others in authority) are experts and know the truth, or at least what they are talking about. Initially, we seldom anticipate deception, which would be intentional. But it happens. When it does, we learn from it.

“The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.” ~ Bob Marley

The US has passed laws and made rules regarding truth in advertising, news reporting, responding to law enforcement, and testifying in court or before congress. At least one president was impeached for lying. At least one admired celebrity was jailed for lying. If we need laws and government rules to protect us from the constant lies and deceptions, especially since we almost expect to be lied to in many cases, why even be concerned about trust?

The answer seems to be that from birth, we need to trust. We also need a balance of hope and fear, or of acceptance and skepticism. We are here to learn, but we should be both questioning and wondering. We should be curious and wanting to learn and to know. We should want the truth, like it or not. And that truth should be supported by ample evidence or proof. We must understand the good and bad (dark) sides of human nature. We should all be students of the human condition.

From Bob Marley’s song, Three Little Birds:

Singing’ don’t worry ’bout a thing
‘Cause every little thing gonna be alright
Singing’ don’t worry (don’t worry) ’bout a thing
‘Cause every little thing gonna be alright

Learn to trust. Demand evidence and proof.
Be skeptical when deception appears present.
Look both ways and mind the gaps.

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15 thoughts on “How Important is Trust?

  1. Last year the kiddo asked about Santa being real. I skirted the truth by talking about how Santa really represents doing for others what they cannot do for themselves or giving freely without expectation. And how as long as we do these things Santa will always be in our hearts. Whew, my no lying record continues.

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  2. I gave up on Santa when I was about nine. A little girl in the lunch line turned and said to me, “Do you stil believe in Santa?” and right then I realized I didn’t. “Naw,” I said, “but my daddy does.” and we both smiled, knowingly. I was twelve when he found out, and it damn near broke his heart.

    There are only two people I trust implicitly, Im married to one of them, and I see the other one in the mirror on a daily basis. Anyone else, for any reason, I take on faith until they prove me wrong. Taking into account human nature, the tides and the weather forcasts, most people are inherently trustworthy–up to a point–although some have a great deal of trouble with truth, honesty, and sticky fingers.

    Some people handle trust and betrayal on a case by case basis, preferring not to tar the next guy with the last guy’s bad behavior. I tend that way myself.

    Some take the first damage personally, and paint every other person with the same brush, regardless of who or what they are. I feel kinda sorry for them, it shuts them out of relationships, friendships, a whole bunch of things. I said to a friend who is like that, ‘you know, just because your former husband beat the stuffing out of you, doesnt mean the next man will….”. She smiled and said, “True, but he might. I can’t take that chance.”. sigh.

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  3. I am guilty of being too trusting and I have suffered the consequences. I am also a big believer in second chances. As for Santa Claus, I’m convinced there is truth in myth, just sayin….I still leave cookies and milk and have yet to be disappointed in the true gifts of the season…friends, family and the joy that Yule and Christmas bring.

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  4. http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/who-is-st-nicholas/

    A very very old legend from way back in the 3rd century or thereabouts. And from a real man.

    And I don’t denigrate any of it. I loved the Santa thing, and was a little sad when I realized I had outgrown him. I never (and still don’t) hold to the idea that you’re telling your kid lies when you tell them about Santa. No moreso than when you read them a story about magical beings like Mary Poppins, or Peter Pan, or The Grinch. Life is too short, there should be some magic in it.

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  5. true enough, but Santa to most people is by now fantasy, rarely does anyone remember or care much about the reality. I was thinking of the magical aspect, not the possible coal in the stocking thing, which no one these days credits anyway. It’s become part of the myth, if you will.
    (The grinch, by the way, is slowly becoming a part of Christmas as well, as a symbol of Greed and redemption. Sort of a modern day Scrooge)

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  6. Oy, that bit about King brought back some memories. I also had to have my ears lanced a couple of times. And now can’t hear quite right, but it was worth the pain to have the relief. Trust is indeed important. Unfortunately, it does get abused, mostly from people placing the trust they had in people into religions.

    I did believe in Santa far longer than most kids. I’m a bit gullible. I was also quite hurt that my parents and relatives lied to me and, then I knew, laughed at me.

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  7. I never felt lied to, at least not as far as Santa was concerned, it was, like a pair of shoes, something we all shared, as kids, and grew away from.
    someone asked me once how I ‘knew’ which presents were from Santa? I had never thought of that, and then I remembered, the ones from my folks were wrapped, the ones from Santa, were left unwrapped, and I was allowed to bail into them if I got up first. Im sure there had to have been a discussion about what came from whom, but that, like so much of childhood, is lost in the corners.
    Mother was in many ways a flawed human being, moreso as we both aged. But one thing she did give me, as a kid, was a love of fantasy, of magic, of makebelieve. And along with that, she gave me words, reading, and games.

    Truth and honesty were never issues in our house, since much if not all of my childhood was a fib anyway. I only found that out years later. My dad’s approach to business was ‘what you could get away with is what counts”, and my mother would promise anyone anything to maintain her personal calm pool. I would have to they she taught me to never trust either of them, since eventually I’d feel the tug of the carpet being yanked out from under me. Why Ive never had a problem with trust (as in, it’s never been a major issue) since then, I’ll never know.

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    • Excluding neurosis and paranoia, I think most times we apply trust individually. Thus, when someone is betrayed, they will never thrust the offender to the same degree again; baring foolish trust, as with battered spouses.

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  8. This post reminds me yet again of why I’m here on WordPress. I don’t even need to post stuff, because I enjoy reading what others post so much. That other people have deep thoughts and draw them out for all of us to follow is refreshing to me (I’m a firefighter, and even though I work with many brilliant people, most discussions revolve around fart jokes, ass holes, and butt injuries). Thanks for posting this.

    This post also reminds me of similar doctor related trust issues. I had the same thing happen with my ear, but luckily I was a teenager and I knew it’d hurt like a bugger. However, as an EMT I deceived a child and probably caused a whole new complex. Certainly, I mistook the seriousness of the matter and have thought about it much since. You see, as a kid my dentist always told me that I’d feel a little pinch when indeed I’d get a shot in the gums. I believed the dentist had a pinching mechanism, and it never felt like more than that. One day, I saw the needle, and it really hasn’t been the same since. So, when I treated an eight year old with a possible blood sugar issue I said, “I’m going to give your finger a little pinch with this,” and I proceeded to poke the kid with the small stick. Let’s just say that her reaction made me realize what an awful person I was, and I vowed to never deceive a kid again.

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  9. It depends on the kid, the reason, and the adult involved.
    My mother used to lure me into the car with the promise of comic books and when we got to the doctor’s office she’d say she had to go in to get a prescription filled, why didnt I come too.

    And the doctor at the top of the stairs, waiting, with the needle. It was never pleasant, partly because I was so outraged by the trickery.

    In a futile attempt to avoid a scene, my mother managed to make a bigger one, and lose my trust in the bargain. I wasnt too crazy about the doctor by then, either.

    Btw, you weren’t an awful person, you were doing something that had worked for you. It just happened to not work for her. that doesnt make you awful, at all.

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