Gaining, Losing, & Regaining Trust

In relationships, politics, even our interactions with businesses, there is a level of tacit understanding to trust that the other party will do what they say will do or be who they say they are. We expect parents or a significant other to unconditionally love and not intentionally hurt us; we vote someone into office to serve the country and needs of the people who voted them in; we buy from companies who create products and services we assume to be reliable and consistent.

As a baseline for conversation, trust is defined by Merriam-Webster as:

A:  assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something
b:  one in which confidence is placed

Unfortunately, humans are broken and unreliable and don’t always work or react as expected. (Corporations, being made of people, are also inherently broken in many ways.) We do stuff we shouldn’t, and it hurts others. Confidence is shaken, and character may come under scrutiny. When trust is broken or merely perceived to be lost in a relationship, how do you rebuild it? How do we want to be seen and trusted again if we’ve personally done something to lose that? Is there a level of grace and forgiveness we want for ourselves and therefore should give to others along the way?

This summer, I listened to a podcast from This American Life. The episode was titled, “The Perils of Intimacy.”  The lead story was about a woman whose life was unraveling around her and the people she thought she could trust were those behind everything bad happening to her. And yet, she couldn’t get herself to leave the person who did all these terrible things. She wanted to believe he could be trusted; she needed something stable in her life when everything else was chaos. From the outside, it’s easy to say she should have left right as soon as trust was broken. But we all know nothing is as cut and dry as TV dramas portray. Emotional connections are complicated and way more nuanced than we give them credit for. It’s why I suspect most of us don’t or can’t find ways out of unhealthy relationships or bring up issues in a productive manner.

Election seasons are an interesting time in American culture, particularly when we are called upon to choose our president. For whatever reasons, it brings out pretty terrible qualities out of us as a society. We bicker and complain to anyone within earshot about particular people’s faults far more than we call out positive qualities about those we like. This year, many people have lamented that the vote between the presidential candidates from the two major political parties is like choosing between the lesser of two evils. Nobody is content, and we all feel like we’re settling. One theme prevalent this year has been one of “can I trust this candidate?” based on their previous records and actions. Even if the quantity of “good actions” outweigh those of the “bad actions,” we focus on the negatives as reasons why they are unfit. Blame it on the overwhelming volume of negative campaigning and our love of tearing other people down or blame it on the rain. Yet, even the most cynical among us wants to trust our leaders to do a good job. What does it take for them to regain that trust or earn it for the very first time?

We want to put our faith in something other than ourselves; it’s inherent to being human. It would be a tough world to live in if we didn’t trust anybody. Even the most independent people in the world have a need to believe others on some level. Yet, we frequently fail to make strong cases on our behalf for why we should trust each other with anything. We can be awful at keeping secrets, showing up on time, following through on promises, replying to people, and being sensitive to each other.

Many of us have experienced a broken trust, probably first and most commonly by being lied to by someone who you assumed would always tell you the truth. Perhaps your experiences are in not having a faithful spouse or partner or a distant parent or a coworker who took advantage of you. It’s easy to say that once trust is broken in any relationship to want to walk away forever and be done with it. After all, that’s what we’re being told is the appropriate response in storytelling in movies or TV shows: one and done! Who needs a chance for redemption or to receive the grace from you to go, “well, maybe this person was just having an off day or moment?” or even “this person is making strides to change and I should give them another chance even though they made a mistake, right?”

What do you think happens every time you acted in a way that ended up hurting someone you care about? The lies and deceits and broken promises sting. A lot. They feel the same kind of pain too. Even if they are rare to your character, it doesn’t lessen the pain. We don’t want to be left in the cold because of one or two missteps in judgment and action.

We never want that “one and done” treatment back. We know we’re messed up. We are aware we’re going to make someone upset or break a promise but we’ll want a chance to make it better and try again. And it’s even more likely that we’re going to break a pledge many more times in the future. And we’ll want arms wide open waiting to take us back again as we figure out our way.

It’s why I’m trying to be open to the idea of second, third, and 33rd chances. I need to practice forgiveness and grace when trust is lost, even when it’s really hard to do. I need to have faith that the other person’s character is better than a couple blunders. Because I’m no better than anyone else. One day I will mess up again and I don’t want trust in me to be lost so quickly. I will need forgiveness and a chance at redemption too. Trust me.