A trustworthy man (generic) keeps his word, shows up, does his job, even if he has to improvise a bit or stay over time. You can “count on” him.
However, the trust he’s earned can evaporate in a blink with a lie or a broken promise. When he forgets to call when he’s going to be late causes a problem, but when he makes a habit of it, trust disappears. The person waiting may suspect inappropriate behavior when similar experience in the past with him or someone else makes them expect “another burn.”
Trust is more about perception than anything else. I believe the Golden Gate bridge can support me, even if the testing was fudged, as long as that testing error is unknown to me. Even if the testing was not faked, a rumor of faking may terrify me as I approach the bridge even if it’s built to double-strength standards. Have you ever been “conned”? A con artist gains your trust with an elaborate lie or a simple sign that says “help me, I’m homeless.”
Other processes impact trust, but nothing more than one’s historical experience.
An exercise modified from one used in a twelve step program might help. Draw a circle on paper. Start putting letters in that circle to represent the ten best or worst experiences of your life. Use different colors if you like. Make some G’s for good, B’s for bad or use a key word for each event that comes to mind. Take your time.
We react to some of our experiences with admiration, some with disgust, but ALL are “recorded” on the hard drive of your memory. When someone does something in response to a situation, you will be alarmed if it is markedly different from the actions taken by those you knew as you grew up.
In a tense situation, we will expect things to go the way they are “supposed” to go. Spankings are just not right if they are delivered with something that causes pain. A bolo bat paddle (the kind with a rubber band stapled to it attached to a rubber ball) ONLY MAKES NOISE. When your child acts up, the little bolo will be the first thing you think of. If your parents stood you in the corner – guess what you do first. I made up my mind I would never scream at my kids, but I caught myself screaming at my six year old son anyway. Not because I wanted to – it was the recording.
Let me share a tension I experienced. With thousands of invisible Sailors, Marines, Airmen and Soldiers I came home from Vietnam. We all knew the war was unwanted back in America. The news was not shielded from us, even though we learned some of what we did was kept from U.S. citizens. I attended some great schools with the help of Veterans benefits, but kept my story to myself. It did not seem something safe to talk about. We were Honorably Discharged, but never honorably received until one Veterans Day Sunday twenty years later our Pastor included a very small segment in the service. A Veteran’s coffee mug was passed out to all the Veterans as they were asked to stand to be honored. There were still some World War II vets who stood, then Korea. They smiled and waved or nodded their appreciation. Then Pastor did something that had not happened before in my experience. Maybe it had in other places, but not at while I was around. He asked the Vets from the Vietnam conflict to stand. My shoulders shook and I could not hold back tears. Looking around I saw I was not alone.
The initial experiences of The Great Generation and the Lost Generation around coming home from war were so different. One was cheered at the end of their war. The troops from Bosnia and a handful of other conflicts also receive praise. Vietnam vets were jeered or called names. When I see a vet in an airport – I applaud, and I am seldom alone anymore. I did not do anything except record most of my coming-home-from-the-war experience.
Let’s change gears. We react with admiration to many of our early experiences. Remember the story from school of “Honest Abe”? Teachers use that type of experience to show our American values. I saw my dad carry a few coins back to the five and dime in Pampa, Texas when I was in junior high. The cashier had given him the wrong change when he bought some fresh roasted Spanish peanuts for us to munch on the walk home. The impact on me in that moment was small, but later my future father-in-law asked puzzled questions when I returned about seventy-five cents too much change to a convenience store counter. I had to think and remembered my unconscious admiration for my dad in order to explain to my father-in-law.
On a different note, a nice dad bought his kid a candy once. Other dad’s did, too. The children always think such treats seemed warm, kind and generous. However, a not-so-fairy tale began when a different father-like figure gave a child such a special treat, a gift on another occasion, and still more gifts as time passed. He talked of things that made her nervous, but he was such a generous man who said he thought they had a very special relationship. She did not want to lose such a warm friend, so she ignored the feelings in her guts. She became accustomed to them. Many other details later, and she knew special to him was ugly or even scary and painful.
One day a man she met at work and thought might be her prince charming who might take her away from a dark place offered her a candy . . . From that moment she began to avoid him because of the recordings of her past.
How many times a day do we all feel a need to keep distant from trustworthy and honorable people? Our distrust may be based on only the thin evidence of one previous experience OR more likely the voiced negative expectations or prejudices of someone close to us who had the same inaccurate information or slander passed to him. “You need to hide your tats or I can’t keep you working here.” “Polish those shoes.” “If I hire you, you’ll just get pregnant and never come back.” “Be careful, she’s a ‘foster.’” “Those people can’t be relied on to pay their debts.” Negative recordings – opinions – my pass down generation until no one knows their origin. The hate feels the same to the victim.
Other’s recordings can also produce positive impacts on our lives. Do you remember family reunions? Ours used to use a park covering a complete city block. My grandpa taught me “dominos” and liked to show me off by playing partners with me at the reunions. I heard so many incredible stories around the tables, I grew to love just hearing old timers’ tales. My life was shaped by some of those yarns intermixed with philosophical quips like, “If you sign on for a day’s pay, you better give a day’s sweat.” I work very hard for anyone who hires me, no matter how the rest of the crew performs. All my children make me very proud that way too.
A story about one of Grandmother Stanton’s brothers touched me deeply. He was a huge man. My brother and I once put on a pair of his trousers – one in each leg with the waist band to our necks with a lot of room to spare in each leg and the waist band. We were not little kids when we did this. He had to have been well over seven feet tall. Grandma said he was some sort of outlaw and – the line that got me – “Everyone was terrified of him.” To this day, nothing eats at me more than knowing I have scared someone. I have had to make many amends in my life because of my size, and sometimes because my pensive and serious demeanor sometimes intimidates.
Other folks’ experiences can change us if we hear of them in the right situation, but they can also surprise us. When we leave home for school the very first day we learn of many other “circles” with sometimes very different and often much the same library of stories. Some of our experiences dovetail and some do not. Even if we are in a close relationship with the same person for a decade there will still be behaviors and mannerisms of our partner’s that will catch us by surprise and cause a tense moment or two. Our two circles of experience may overlap considerably, but there will be large numbers of experiences, behaviors, mannerisms, habits we would never suspect, until we look in the cabinet in the bathroom and see the toothpaste lidless and squished to a grotesque, disgusting mess. We show them the “right” way – rolled neatly from the empty end, clamped with lid in place protecting the contents (and the brusher) from unclean things that could surely do us in! Or maybe they will thoughtlessly put Campbell’s cheese soup on the macaroni rather than Velveeta. Who does That? But if we give it a chance, we learn many ways to make mac and cheese. Learning the useful and valuable experiences and skills of other help us grow. It’s really just growing old together.
A few practical lessons:
1. The longer you date, the more you are likely to learn about your future partner. It could help with the inevitable surprises. After you marry, surprises truly challenge you both.
2. Not everything or everyone who scares you is scary. In any relationship, your partner or associate is going to do something you’ve seen a very shady character do. Wait for the bigger picture to paint itself. Some folks get very suspicious of their mate if they are a few minutes late and forget to call. For forty-three years my wife has forgotten to call. I worry sometimes, sure, and I tell her about it – or more often she notices the worn spot in the carpet from my pacing. One point is certain: I can’t help the relationship when I’m suspicious. Besides, if she ever did me wrong, the truth would come out. That may only be a truism, but I believe it and I believe in my wife.
3. Not everyone who says you can trust them will be trustworthy. President Reagan’s sage advice was “Trust them, but cut the deck anyway.” I think he may have meant continue to be warm and hospitable toward everyone, but look for the track record: the number of days they show up, on time, and do their job effectively and thoroughly. So the arms treaties have always included inspection schedules to assure compliance.
4. You and your partner or coworker will have some truly uncomfortable moments when it seems nothing happened out of the ordinary, but they become suddenly beside themselves with anger, or pulled into a tight, self-protecting shell, refusing to speak to you for several days. Be patient until they show calmness. Approach them with concern not to lose a valued friendship. Ask what you said or did that seemed to alarm or surprise them and how you can help mend things. You will be surprise how easy it can sometimes be to preserve a lifelong relationship. You just might help a friend come to grips with a recording of a bad experience long forgotten until the moment you did or said something common to you but associated with a great past injury for them. Very small and innocent gestures, mannerisms and statements can reopen wounds they had worked so hard to put out of their mind by immersing themselves in their studies or daily duties like many vets did who came back from Vietnam or other conflicts.
We all strive for a safe place and community of friends. Losing someone close to us or finding our community is not so safe exposes another force that impacts trust. Next time.