Friday, September 24, 2004

Trust Issues

The high school prom was something many of my classmates were eager to attend. But since I did come from a semi-conservative Jesuit school, many steps were taken to “educate” us in the proper way of behaving in such an event. One of them was attending an orientation, and one of the speakers was a father. He told us that he wanted us to go home on time and bring home our dates on the agreed upon time. “It’s not that we don’t trust you. It’s the sons-of-bitches out there that we don’t trust.” At the time, it made perfect sense: our parents were worried about us and there are many random factors out there in the world that could present a danger to us. However, after hearing that line several times over the years, used in different contexts, that statement is flawed at best, and at worst, an outright lie.

The statement above could be paraphrased as such: “It’s not you but rather everyone else that I don’t trust.” It’s been used by people concerned about us: our parents, our significant other, sometimes even our friends. For the sake of argument, I’ll tackle first the situation where the people saying that statement actually believe it.

Obviously, we shouldn’t trust everyone. A lot of people are capable of deceiving and hurting other people, after all; that’s why we have thieves, con artists, robbers, rapists, murderers, etc. However, the opposite isn’t true as well. We cannot distrust everything and everyone. People with that kind of behavior are called paranoid. If everyone didn’t offer some level of trust, no one would be friends with each other, since each one is expecting the other to make a show of trust without offering it themselves. To some extent, we trust other people; we trust our cook not to poison our food, we trust our teachers to educate, we trust our accountants to manage our finances, etc. We cannot go on living our lives thinking that everyone else will be hostile to us, except in really dire situations (i.e. war, a recent catastrophe, etc.). And even then, as social beings, we need some level of trust to coexist with other people. Without that, I can’t “live”. I mean if I truly believed that the world is hostile, I wouldn’t come out of my house. Or if I did, I’d come out wearing a bullet-proof vest, a space-suit to ward off biological weapons, and carry a machine gun to shoot anyone I see. But we don’t do that. Rather, we come out of our houses dressed in plain clothes (sometimes even less) and carry our expensive accessories (i.e. jewelry, mobile phones, watches, etc.). But as reality would prove it, not everyone gets mugged everyday. Sure, there are incidents of theft and murder, but it’s not a regular occurrence to any particular person. I’m not saying that we don’t take precautions against it, but rather that we really don’t expect it to happen to us every single day. As much as we trust the people we know, we also do extend a certain amount of trust to the people we don’t know and they in turn extend it to us as well. That’s how we managed to coexist with others.

Should we be worried about our children, significant other, and friends? Of course! But we can’t cradle them nor treat them like fragile glass. Life is difficult and in the end, we can’t always be there to watch over them. Everyone needs to learn to be independent, at least to a certain extent. Yes, it is entire possible they will get into trouble. And sometimes, they do get into trouble. But people truly lose themselves when they allow traumatic events to conquer them. We can recover. Don’t let an incident or two ruin your whole life; it won’t happen everyday. We only breed distrust which leads only to further distrust when we use the excuse “we don’t trust other people” as an excuse. The eventual outcome to that would be the recipient asking the dictator “why should we trust you?”

Of course the other scenario we have is that people merely use that statement as an excuse rather than genuinely believing it. And why not, it’s the easiest thing to say, isn’t it? I’m not putting blame to the person I’m talking to yet I have a valid excuse to restrict the person. What they fail to see is that when they use this statement, it’s not a statement they believe in: they’re lying, whether to themselves or to the other person. The only person they don’t trust is either the person they’re talking to or themselves. This is usually the case with worried parents who don’t think that their children will behave appropriately when not supervised, or by jealous lovers who think that their significant other will leave them for a more “worthy” lover.

Again, to impose such a thing is flawed. We are neither omniscient nor omnipotent. We cannot know everything that the other person will do. There will come a time when we are not watching. When that happens, there’s not much we can do to make a demand from them. All we can do is to trust that the other person won’t disappoint us. And in the end, that’s all we can do. I mean if a child is really rebellious or if a lover is really unfaithful, we can’t really change that (we can attempt to do so and it might work temporarily but in the long run, they will do what they will). The moment they’re free of us, they will do as their will dictates.

Perhaps what’s worse is that we show a lack of faith and trust in the other person, even if it’s not warranted. I mean a son or daughter doesn’t really want to disappoint his or her parents. If they’ve behaved well so far, what reason do they have to rebel? Or if they do, then there’s probably a good reason why they did it. People, after all, don’t change overnight. Similarly, those with significant others have the same kind of problem. If they’ve made a commitment with you, then it’s most likely they’ll stick to it, unless they have a previous record of not doing so. In the bigger picture, the lack of faith here is not at the other person but towards the self. People with low self-esteem usually make this kind of mistake. They think that they’re not worthy of the other person or that everything’s working out too well that something must go wrong, and it’ll probably come from the other person. What they fail to see that it is this kind of mentality that brings them to ruin, and probably what drives off other people.

To trust is a delicate issue. Sometimes, it’s not merely a matter of trusting the other person or not. We often forget that the person we should trust also includes ourselves. If I didn’t trust myself, I wouldn’t be writing this entire essay. And if I didn’t trust my readers, I’d be committing social suicide by publishing this.

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