Last night we were out to dinner and there was a bit of a hubbub at the booth behind us. Two waiters were talking and gesturing towards the window. I caught enough of the conversation to know that the couple that had just left did so without paying their bill. The old “Dine & Dash.”
As we were talking about it later, it occurred to me how surprising it is that in today’s society, any restaurants are still willing to bring you the bill after you finish eating. It is odd when you think about it and apply it to different business models. Wouldn’t it be weird to pay for your movie ticket and popcorn on your way out of the theater, rather than on your way in? Or pay for your gas after you fill your car? – Oh, wait – that is how we used to do it not that long ago.
The point being, we really do put a tremendous amount of trust in our fellow humans. We trust them to serve us safe food. We trust them to stop at red lights. We trust them to protect our children. We trust our employers to pay us for our labor.
In an age of distrust, we are incredibly trusting.
Yes, sometimes that trust is violated. People do run red lights. People do abuse children. People do skip out on payroll. But those are the exceptions, and not the norm. Thankfully so, because our culture and our system depends on that basic element of trust.
Lately, you can’t read the news or watch TV without hearing about how someone can’t be trusted. Every election cycle “Trust” is taken out of the junk drawer of words, dusted off, and suddenly shined up and celebrated. I find it fascinating that so often the people who want to claim leadership other relatively trustworthy people aren’t very trustworthy themselves. And in the case of politics, it seems to be the norm, rather than the exception. It makes the necessary evil of politics that much more…evil.
There is a saying by the author/minister George MacDonald that you have probably heard before. He said, “To be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved.”
That idea requires some thinking, but I believe it to be true. To spin it down to the simplest version I can think of – I can love my dog, but that doesn’t mean I trust him to not run out in the street. Being a father of five, following story hit close to home, and I wish I had it at the ready on some previous occasions:
President J. Reuben Clark Jr. told of the time when one of his children was going out on a date. He asked them to come home at a certain hour. “Chafing under that constant, urgent reminder, the daughter said, ‘Daddy, what is the matter, don’t you trust me?’
“His answer must have shocked her as he said, ‘No, my child, I don’t trust you. I don’t even trust myself.’” (link)
Trust must be earned. It is built line upon line, year after year. But it is also a bit like a house of cards, because after careful building, trust can come crashing down ever so quickly because of one false move. Anyone who has been burned in business, or had their heart broken from betrayal or rejection understands how hard it can be to rebuild that trust. But we must, because we need to be able to trust in order to move through this life.
I extend infinite trust in the people that put the brake assembly in my car every time I step on the pedal. I trust complete strangers to prepare my food. I trust my children’s safety to a bus driver that I have never met. We trust so many people, and most of the time, our trust is rightfully placed.
But not always.
People do betray. People do abuse. People cheat, steal and lie. Often we are left with holding the damage in our lives and hearts.
“Sadly, often a single careless or willful act can destroy the trust that has taken a lifetime to earn. While broken or lost trust can be regained, it is not easily or quickly restored.” (Cecil O. Samuelson)
We are all familiar with the Tennyson quote, “‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” (link) but would offer a variation on that idea, and you can quote me on this:
“‘Tis better to have trusted and been burned than to never have trusted at all.”
If we turn off trust because of the actions of some untrustworthy people, we also turn off the opportunity to trust all the rest. Paranoia is not attractive. Trust and faith run in the same circles, and there can be a temptation to turn away from both if our hearts and minds are overridden with distrust and fear – neither of which is conducive to spiritual growth.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that we should go through life blithely trusting anyone and everyone – especially those who have burned us before. (For example, you can forgive your neighbor for wrecking your truck, but you are not obligated to trust him enough to lend him your new one.) But going through life in a constant state of distrust will canker the soul and harden the heart.
Soft hearts are more vulnerable than hard hearts – but it is worth the deliberate and calculated risk. The alternative is to turn off those Godly traits such as faith, patience, love, and kindness and go through life with a hard heart, risking nothing, gaining nothing.
Back to the earlier point that trust has to be “earned.” Does it? President Boyd K. Packer explained his wrestle with this concept, and how he decided to deal with it at a level far beyond most of our thinking.
“A few years ago I indulged on one occasion in some introspection and found there were reasons why I didn’t like myself very well. Foremost among them was the fact that I was suspicious of everyone. When I met someone, 1 had in mind this thought: “What’s his motive? What’s he going to try to do?” This came about because I had been badly manipulated, abused by someone I trusted. Cynicism and bitterness were growing within. I determined to change and made a decision that I would trust everyone. I have tried to follow that role since. If someone is not worthy of trust, it is his responsibility to show it—not mine to find it out.” (link)
Gutsy – or crazy? Trust everyone as a default position? Sounds a lot like how we are supposed to apportion love. It is a way of looking at people in our lives with no accusation, no judgment, and even a presumption of goodness. It could be liberating – maybe I should try it. After all, I did just say this: ““‘Tis better to have trusted and been burned than to never have trusted at all.” President Packer goes all-in on that idea, and he goes on to acknowledge the potential risks:
“Of course, there have been times when I have been disappointed, and a few times when I have been badly taken advantage of. I do not care about that. Who am I not to be so misused or abused? Why should I be above that? If that is the price of extending trust to everyone, I am glad to pay it.
I have come to be much less afraid of the possibility of being “used” than I was before. It is sometimes painful when one is misused or when trust or confidence is not honored. That kind of pain, however, is not unbearable, for it is only pain; it is not agony.” (link)
I know that my time and efforts would be much better spent searching my own heart to see how trustworthy I am before God and my fellow man, than it would be to spend my time focusing on the perceived untrustworthiness, or hypothetical trustworthiness of those around me.
It is a hard mirror to look into. I know that there are times that I have broken the trust that people have had in me. I know I have failed to live up to all the commitments I have made to both God and man. My guess is that you have, too.
Enough about me… and let’s not be dumb about this. Nephi got it right when he said, “O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh.” (2 Nephi 4:34) No mortal is 100% trustworthy. All of us have the expected potential to mess up. Only the Lord is perfectly trustworthy, so when the chips are down, and the answers must be 100% reliable, consult the Lord accordingly. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5)
Jesus Christ (who spent his ministry working with an an apostle he knew would eventually betray him.) also taught, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” (Matthew 10:16) There are a lot of wolves out there who have shown they should not be trusted, and we would be wise to regard them as such. Yet the counsel goes on to ask us to be harmless as doves. How do we be harmless?
By being trustworthy. By proving that worthy of the trust that our spouses, children, employers, leaders and friends have placed in us. By proving it over and over and over again, we show ourselves to be “harmless” to them. If we would focus more on our own “beam,” the “motes” in other’s might seem less noticeable.
And we will view the world more clearly.
Being willing to trust is a gift. Being trusted is a gift. Deserving that trust is a treasure.
“Temper Your Trials With Trust,” Cecil O. Samuelson. (BYU Speech)
“Can You Be Trusted?” Elder William R. Walker. (General Conference, October, 2006)
“Lean Not unto Thine Own Understanding.” Gary E. Stephenson (BYU Speeches)