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posted: 2/21/2013 10:27 AM

Keeping someone's trust harder than it looks

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"If he wants me to trust him, he'll have to earn it."

My friend, bitter at once again feeling betrayed by a love interest in her life, was referring to a new gentleman who recently asked her out.

My gut response was to nod in agreement. I mean, can you really trust anyone anymore? And what rational person would naively trust someone she hardly even knows?

On the other hand, though, how could any of us ever really know that someone else is trustworthy?

Do we hire a private detective to check out everything other people tell us, or follow them around 24 hours a day just to make sure they are legitimate? And even if we were 100 percent sure we could trust somebody today, does that guarantee anything about tomorrow?

Trying to sort out this idea of trust, I eventually came up with a few observations.

First, we do need to be cautious in trusting someone we are just meeting. There are simply a lot of people in the world we should not trust. Sometimes this is obvious, sometimes it isn't.

Some people are good at acting like they are trustworthy when they aren't. All in all, it never hurts to go slow when it comes to trust.

As we get to know someone, however, they will begin to give us evidence of how much we can trust. Are they where they say they will be? Do they do what they say they'll do when they say they'll do it?

When we tell them something, is it kept in confidence or does it become neighborhood gossip? Are our needs, wants, limits, listened to and taken seriously? Are they open about what is going on in their lives? Are there too many explanations or excuses that seem contrived or hard to believe?

Once we accumulate enough evidence, we have a reasonable chance of knowing whether someone is probably worth trusting. And if they aren't, we need to walk away.

It is highly unlikely that, no matter how much we care, we will be able to somehow change people who do not seem to be trustworthy.

Notice I said "probably worth trusting." Realistically, I just don't think we will ever know for sure whether we can trust someone. We can believe they are trustworthy with all our heart (and in our best relationships, we do believe it with all our heart), but having proof, knowing it for sure, that's just not possible.

Which leads to a second observation: ultimately, trust is always a gift we give to someone. It is not something other people can earn.

If you accept the above, then it is easier to understand why, once trust is betrayed, it is so hard to restore. When we betray other people's trust, it is like we are throwing the gift that has been given to us right back in their faces. They are going to feel humiliated, hurt, bitter, and angry. And it is going to be awfully hard for them to once again give us the gift of trust after feeling all that.

Now, sadly, no one we trust will ever be totally trustworthy. Even the people who love us most will betray our trust. They may do this unintentionally as in an oversight, a misunderstanding, or an accident. They may do this intentionally, perhaps out of anger or revenge or desperation. Either way, it will happen.

Now, hard as it will be, if these people are going to continue to be an important part of our lives, we must forgive them and choose to give the gift of trust again. And we will have to do this with evidence that they are not 100 percent trustworthy.

All this is why giving the gift of trust is such a risk to begin with, and why receiving the gift of trust is such an honor, a privilege and a responsibility.

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