Trust is a mysterious thing. You can’t taste it, touch it, smell it, or take a picture of it. To some, it seems elusive, forever beyond their reach. And yet, daily, we all exercise trust in others to one degree or another. When you hand your credit card to a waitress, you are trusting that person not to steal it. When you drive, you are trusting the other drivers approaching you to stay in their lane. When you enter into marriage, you are trusting your spouse to be faithful to you.
Now let me reverse those statements. When you are that waitress, your customers are trusting you not to steal. When you drive, other drivers are trusting you not to hit them. When you enter into marriage, your spouse is trusting you to be faithful.
But what is this trust that we are talking about? How do we know if it is wise to trust someone? Typically to answer that question, people start making a list of behaviors that they consider to be evidence that someone is or is not trustworthy. But our behaviors are only a symptom of what is in our heart. So instead, I want to consider the question of what kind of heart attitude is necessary to develop a healthy, trusting relationship.
A core ingredient is humility. Humility can see the needs and interests of others and wants to honor those. Humility chooses to say, “We are better together.” But then humility goes even further. Humility also feels remorse for wrongdoing. It does not defend, or hide, or blame others for things that are not their fault, no matter how painful this is. Instead, humility breeds honesty, and honesty feeds trust. This is now recognized even in the research world. Lee and Ashton (2009) have studied the importance of humility and honesty as a predictor of prosocial behavior. They describe individuals who are strong in this trait as follows:
[A]void manipulating others for personal gain, feel little temptation to break rules, are uninterested in lavish wealth and luxuries, and feel no special entitlement to elevated social status. Conversely, persons with very low scores on this scale will flatter others to get what they want, are inclined to break rules for personal profit, are motivated by material gain, and feel a strong sense of self-importance. (Lee & Ashton, 2009, n.p.)
If you read this and think, “I’m doing great at humility! Others should definitely trust me,” be careful. Feeling entitled to someone’s trust will not help others trust you. It is something that must be earned AND maintained. We must always be seeking to grow in this.
Perhaps you have found yourself in that place of needing to rebuild trust with someone because something you did hurt them. Or perhaps, even right now, you know there is something you are doing that if your spouse found out, he or she would be mortified and angry. And the thought of that makes you want to hide this more. But as Esther Perel (2017) says, “You think you’re keeping it all together, but in fact you are becoming more fragmented” (p. 145). If I could look you in the eyes right now, I would tell you, “I see the fear and shame you’re carrying from this, and I know it’s terrifying to do, but there is power and freedom in humbly confessing this.” If you are still harboring secrets, you will not experience much depth of relationship. But humility and honesty begin the journey towards healing where there is the opportunity for reconciliation.
We must all ask ourselves the question of how we are handling others’ trust in us. If you see an area where you need to begin walking in greater humility and honesty, consider reaching out to a counselor who will help you step forward into building healthier relationships.
Lee, K. & Ashton, M. C. (2009). Scale descriptions. The HEXACO Personality Inventory-Revised: A measure of the six major dimensions of personality. Retrieved from https://hexaco.org/scaledescriptions. 07/23/21
Perel, E. (2017). The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishing.