Trust takes years to build, seconds to break

Sep 21




Helen Whitten

Posted In


Trust takes years to build, seconds to break

I have been drawn to thinking about trust this week.  How does one build trust to go back on a tube if one was involved in the Parson’s Green incident?  Would I be willing to book a ticket on Ryan Air or would I be concerned that they might cancel my flight?  Is Putin hacking to influence the German election?  What does it take to create and maintain trust, or rebuild it when it has been lost?

The definition of trust I found online is a “firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something”. We know from listening to politicians from around the world that words themselves do not create trust.  It’s easy to say something, quite different and more difficult to do it.  So, as the old phrase goes, “action speaks louder than words”.  I value those members of my family, colleagues or friends who do what they say they will do, who are there for me in a reliable way.  It means that they provide some kind of anchor of stability in this wild and uncertain world.

But if that is what I value and expect of others then of necessity this is what I need to provide for them too and sometimes that requires that I put a mirror up to myself and accept where I have achieved a goal of reliability and where I haven’t.  I fear I can identify  several moments in my life where I have disappointed myself and others.  We are all fallible and of course our politicians equally so.

Self-trust also means that I need to look to myself to follow through on goals that I have identified as important to me – a daily walk, eating healthily, forgoing that extra glass of wine of an evening, going to the gym.  Oh dear,  can I actually trust myself when so many of these good intentions don’t get fulfilled?  I suspect that many of us let ourselves down with these everyday goals don’t we?  Except perhaps you, dear reader!

But trust holds us together as a human community and I have personally found it most helpful to be open to trusting others until they prove me wrong.  I try not to do this in a naïve way but I would prefer to be open to believing in other people from the outset rather than being suspicious or doubtful of strangers unless they give me good reason to be so. In this internet age we actually trust an enormous amount of strangers don’t we?  We share intimate facts about our lives with an inanimate object asking us to tell it one’s date of birth, relationships, age, bank details, love interests and more, depending on the website.  And, as in the rest of life, most of the time it works, though inevitably, as in all other walks of life, there are charlatans and fraudsters.  My neighbour in London rents his flat via Airbnb, as do thousands of people around the world.  99% of the time this works brilliantly for him, but just occasionally he gets a tenant from hell.  However, as long as the majority of experience is positive then there is still a reason to trust that most of the time trusting others works.

We unthinkingly trust our car mechanic when we get into our car for a journey, seldom questioning whether they have tightened a necessary screw sufficiently.  Likewise we trust the airplane engineer, the electrician, the gasman and so many other people who can influence our everyday safety.  Indeed if we felt we had to doubt or check everything it would make our lives impossible.

Forgiving and forgetting when someone has betrayed trust is hard but possible.  You don’t necessarily forgive totally, you certainly don’t forget, but nonetheless there comes a time when the incident recedes into distant memory and trust builds up again.

I have been thinking of those caught up at Parson’s Green.  I was at that station on 7/7 just when they shut down the tube system.  The terrible incidents of that day lingered in my mind for many weeks as I boarded a tube train, just as the IRA bombings made me cautious back in the 1970s.  But gradually you realize that life is for living and that in fact it is a happier life when you can let go and trust.  Even if you can’t expect all things to be well you can retain a sense that there is enough trust in the world to encourage us to value it as a precious quality that needs nurturing.

I hope that there will be enough politicians out there who endeavour to be trustworthy and lead the world with wisdom.  But all political parties have done u-turns over manifesto promises.  We can generally sniff out those we find flaky and intuit when something a politician says doesn’t add up.  Nonetheless it is up to us as voters to keep them to their word when possible, not just to give in to a world of false news.

Ryan Air will have to work hard to regain trust though I wonder whether Michael O’Leary really cares.  It might take months or even years for those involved in the Parson’s Green bomb to feel absolutely at ease as they board their tube for work or school.

And so now, because I prefer to be reliable, I shall leave early  to go and pick up my granddaughter from school because I feel it is important to us both that I am not late.  I like to think that she can trust me to be reliable.

Ultimately trust seems to be tied up strongly with morality – being honest, doing what you say you will do, being there when you say you will, not betraying confidences, keeping promises and not being creative with the truth.  In this post-truth world these actions seem to me to be more important than ever.


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