Monday, June 1, 2015

Trust to be trusting and improve your well-being

Consider for a moment the signs of a lack of trust that permeate our modern culture. Locks, fences, and cameras are the most visible examples of a community’s lack of trust in its neighbors. Similar fortresses are erected around individuals based upon their personal lives. Unlisted phone numbers, names missing from mailboxes, and aliases used online also demonstrate a lack of trust. Employers require drug testing, do criminal background checks, and hire surveillance crews to watch employees. All of this lack of trust does not come without a cost beyond the obvious financial expenditures. I contend that lack of trust leads to adverse psychological conditions and a diminished enjoyment of life.

As a child you may have been accused of something you did not do and still over your protests of innocence you remained under the cloud of suspicion until someone else confessed or witnesses absolved you. You likely felt distress at not being trusted especially when it came from someone who you entrusted or were dependent upon to care for you.

Those of you who have been through divorce have likely felt the pain of a violation of trust. You may have trusted your partner to be faithful, honest, and supportive. You may have been the one who was trusted but violated that trust. Either way this contributes to being less trustful of others and yourself. The trust you placed in another was violated and thus you become less trusting after that experience or because you violated the trust of another you become more vigilante against becoming a dupe yourself by being less trusting. Your judgment is called into question because it was you who trusted yourself to choose a faithful, honest, and supportive companion but you failed or you trusted yourself to be that person but failed.

Aside from the personal relationships, business relationships are becoming less trusting. Those are not only built upon a stale, mechanical heuristic that are demeaning to the individuals toward whom such is applied but also those administrators charged with implementing such policies. Hiring decisions, for example, place neither trust in the prospective employee nor the personnel manager. The applicant is not trusted that he or she is not a stupid criminal or qualified to fulfill the needs of the position. Instead a criminal background check is performed to separate incompetent criminals from those who are coy and clever. The qualified applicant group being comprised of criminals so cunning and crafty that they will rob your business blind from the inside and never get caught plus those individuals who are law abiding. Then there is the requisite documentation such as degrees, course certificates or other documentation that you may have been somewhat proficient in test taking.

That documentation is not correlated to competence. From the first diploma I received through the most recent certificates I have received for completing course work and trainings each has gone to the trashcan. They are meaningless compared to my successes in writing appeals, getting laws passed or amended, and having my contributions added to the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines. One need only look to the disciplinary actions or negligence/incompetence based lawsuits against lawyers, medical professionals or other Master’s Degree professionals to see that years of training do not correlate to competence.

For the personnel manager who completes the perfunctory tasks of checking credentials and obtaining various background data the message of distrust is also clear. That is that the manager is not trusted to hire a competent, trustworthy individual based on the manager’s judgment but is instead only trusted to complete those tasks assigned through the hiring rubric. This all stems from the owners’ lack of trust in themselves to equally associate themselves with individuals that they can trust to hire competent employees. No surprise that they do not trust themselves while living in an atmosphere pervaded by distrust.

This pervasive lack of trust can leave individuals paralyzed by fear. Fear that some employee will make a mistake and botch a job. Fear that one’s property will be taken or usurped by another. Fear that the people we meet on the street, work with, call our friends, or are related to will not be trustworthy and do us some wrong or harm. Anxiety abounds.

But what of those who are not suspicious and who do not cut themselves off from the opportunities provided by trust? I contend that those people have a healthier mental disposition, are in-turn trusted more, and find greater satisfaction in life; particularly in their interpersonal relationships.

Recently I advertised a bicycle for sale on Craigslist. About half an hour after posting the ad a young woman appears at my doorstep wanting to see it. I invite her in and tell her that I haven’t brought it down from the attic yet but she is welcome to follow me up there to have a look. She does and wants the bike. She asks for directions to her bank branch in my town and says she will return with the money. About 10 minutes later she comes in my house [startling me a bit] and gives me the money.

I know some paranoid kooks who would have immediately cautioned both of us to “only make transactions in a public location”, “don’t go in another person’s house”, “don’t allow anyone into your house”, and the ever ambiguous “be careful” all based upon some rare sensationalized adversity that happens in about one out of every 50,000 transactions. Yet, I demonstrated trust in this young woman by allowing her in my home and she demonstrated trust in me by accompanying me to the attic of my home. We had pleasant conversation for a bit and then she left with her purchase.

Our trust for each other as well as others distrust may both based upon a psychological mechanism called “projection” which was refined by Freud although it had been theorized by ancient philosophers. Psychological projection is when a person attributes his or her own character traits upon another person or society at large. It is theorized that psychological projection can even account for armed conflict between countries where an aggressive terrorist state that positions soldiers throughout the world actually accuses the countries it invaded of being the aggressors and terrorist states. In our lives we are most likely to see projection exposed in accusations of sexual infidelity. Those who often are the first to accuse a mate of infidelity are engaged in such affairs themselves. It is their underlying feeling of guilt that leads them to accuse the mate thereby relieving the accuser of the feeling of guilt as his or her infidelity becomes viewed as a response to the projected infidelity of the mate.

Some studies were critical of Freud's theory. Research supports the existence of a false-consensus effect whereby humans have a broad tendency to believe that others are similar to themselves, and thus "project" their personal traits onto others. This applies to good traits as well as bad traits and is not a defense mechanism for denying the existence of the trait within the self.[fn1]

In all the decisions that we make, which have placed us exactly where we are in life, a cost-benefit analysis is applied. Often though people do not objectively apply the full spectrum of the attributes and instead rationalize their decision through the logical fallacy of omission. Those who do not want to trust and project unto the world that it is an untrustworthy world choose to avoid their undesirable traits. They don’t want to admit to their propensity to avoid truth and the manner in which they deceive others. They won’t acknowledge the benefits of trusting others; the reduced anxiety, the freedom to experience life, the strengthening of relationships, and the ease at which new relationships are made. By projecting that the world is untrustworthy they can justify the walls they build around themselves through their own untrustworthy actions.

Examine yourself, objectively review your motives, and measure whether it is worth all the sacrifices that distrust requires. Distrust may keep you alive but it can also keep you from living.


[1] Baumeister, Roy F.; Dale, Karen; Sommer, Kristin L. (1998). "Freudian Defense Mechanisms and Empirical Findings in Modern Social Psychology: Reaction Formation, Projection, Displacement, Undoing, Isolation, Sublimation, and Denial". Journal of Personality 66 (6): 1090–1092.

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