February Theme: Trust

DonSense – Rev. Don Garrett & the Soul Matters Sharing Circle

February: What does it mean to be a people of Trust?

When I was a child, trust was a rather straightforward concept. It had to do with telling the truth. If someone lied to me, that meant that they couldn’t be trusted. But it didn’t mean they couldn’t be a friend, it just meant that I couldn’t believe some of the things they said.

Of course, there was another area of trust involved: there was tattling, when one child would betray your trust in them by informing on you to your parent, teacher, or other adult in authority. This was more troubling, because it went beyond merely unreliable information: it meant that it wasn’t safe to play with them.

The concept of trust become broader as I learned more about life. There were betrayals, misrepresentations, and outright thefts. When I moved to the city from the country, I discovered that people weren’t always what they seemed and that nice person I invited into my home left with my father’s good camera. That was a pretty serious breach of trust.

I eventually learned that trust is a complex subject that affects every relationship, group or organization. Some years ago, the Rev. Blaine Hartford shared a definition of trust that I’ve found to be both provocative and comprehensive: “Trust is a feeling of safety within one’s self, induced by how much caring, competency, and commitment you believe another person demonstrates within your relationship.”

Put this way, the first thing that I realized is that trust isn’t just based on the actions of another person; it is derived from your own perspective. The terms in this definition are subjective: the same actions could produce different levels of trust in different people if their opinions about caring, competence, or trust differ from each other.

Caring, for example, is a devilishly difficult thing to nail down. How do we know how much someone else cares about us? We could base it on specific actions, but where do we get the criteria for evaluating those actions? The same could be said of competence or commitment – they tend to be derived from one’s internal set of beliefs and assumptions rather than any objective criteria.

The biggest reveal in this definition is that trust is inherently and inescapable relational. If we don’t share our thoughts and feelings with each other, the degree of trust in our lives will tend to come in the form of automatic, knee-jerk activation of our pre-existing biases, for good or ill.

An atmosphere of trust requires communication. We need to ask one another if we’re expecting something unreasonable from each other, which Elton John described as “Trying to find gold in a silver mine; like trying to get whiskey from a bottle of wine.”

Very few of us are scoundrels undeserving of any trust, but there are many of us who apply the broad brush of distrust to people who don’t deserve it. A careful cultivation of relationships includes learning what another person has to offer and then sharing what we need when we need it.

As the song, “Lean on Me,” says, “For no one can fill those of your needs you don’t let show.” Cultivating trust requires good faith on all sides, including a willingness to share one’s vulnerabilities as much as one’s judgements, and a willingness to forgive at least as strong as the urge to convict.

It could well be that our ability to achieve a climate of trust is more in our hands than we sometimes imagine.

See you in church.