The late Australian philosopher Annette Baier articulated an all too common phenomenon when she said, “We inhabit a climate of trust as we inhabit an atmosphere and notice it as we notice air, only when it becomes scarce or polluted” (“Trust and Antitrust”, Ethics, 1986).
The truth is, we tend not to think much about trust until it is ‘too late’.
This is unfortunate because learning to place trust well is crucial for navigating a swathe of daily personal and professional challenges. At work, trust can create space for teams to take the risks needed to create collaboratively. So too, self-trust is key for pitching, interviewing and receiving critical feedback. Trusting well at home is equally important. Trust of loved ones can help sustain relationships and save parents from having their care for children soured by micro-management.
If we are to benefit from learning the art of placing trust well, a preliminary step is to become more self-aware, and more aware of trust itself. We may need to ask ourselves the following questions:
"What assumptions about trust and distrust do I carry with me?"
"How might past let-downs and betrayals be impacting my ability to be vulnerable with others?"
In reality, we do not approach trust as blank slates. Rather, implicit and explicit messages about trust can colour our relationship with trust itself, let alone our relationships with other people. For example, parents, teachers or bosses may have taught us (whether they meant to or not) that being trusting is the same as being gullible, and it is better to approach life with scepticism. Others may have received a view more in line with the French 17th century thinker, Francois La Rochefoucauld, who held that “It is more shameful to distrust one’s friends than to be deceived by them”.
Whatever messages about trust we have received, the first step to placing trust well at work and home is to reflect on what we carry with us as we approach trust. One way to cultivate self-awareness around trust is to try to draw trust. By experimenting with how we think trust could be best visually represented we can gain insight into what trust actually means to us.
If, for example, we think trust is primarily about the need to rely on others we might depict it with one basic shape leaning on another.
Alternatively, as some philosophers hold, we might take trust to be primarily about knowing that others will act with regard for our interests, which we could show in this way…
Or perhaps, the most important thing about trust is the way it brings out vulnerability, and the best way to express that reality is with no drawing at all, but rather an imperfect piece of paper.