Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of sharing laughter, food, and tales from the professional road with someone who has known and mentored me for a long time. On almost all accounts, it was an exceptionally fun evening, spent with someone whose keen (and accurate) observations of me brought laughter, comfort and validation of what I am learning to trust in myself. But one sobering observation made, sandwiched between layers of wine-fueled stories, resonated loudly above the rest. It was on the subject of trust. How, he asked, do I discern who I can trust? How do I assess what others’ intentions are? How open are people really being with me and how do I know for sure? In recent weeks and months, these same questions have come up again and again – at work, in my relationships, and in my choices for my life moving forward.
Interestingly, last night I attended a professional performance improvement program in which the speaker, a trained psychiatrist who advises the US Army and professional athletes on performance improvement, spoke to us about the workings and wirings of the human brain. Turns out, scientists have been able to determine that the human brain cannot distinguish between reality and illusion. It’s why we can fall in love with someone, even if the other person has a vastly different interpretation of the relationship. The mind, as my ex once reminded me, is a very powerful thing. It believes what it wants to believe.
If this is true, how do we discern who and what we can trust? How do we know what is real? Where we once perhaps gave our personal power over to others, how can we learn to trust ourselves? Sometimes I can’t help feeling a bit like Alice in wonderland, living in a world where nothing appears to be what it actually is, filled with riddles that hold the keys to the truth. As I reflect on these questions which continue to resurface, I continue to contemplate the lessons before me.
Experience, for example, has taught me that while not everyone is corrupt, people are corruptible and often act from self-interest, if not consciously, then subconsciously. For better or worse, it’s a basic human instinct. Let’s be honest here – even those of us who commit ourselves to philanthropic work do so because it feels good…because it serves our value system, providing an intrinsically positive experience for the giver, not just the receiver. In business, deals get done and people get hired or promoted because those actions best serve the needs and goals of the organization.
Still, on countless occasions in my past and present, I’ve been blessed by those who have selflessly extended a hand along the way, without the appearance of another agenda. I have received them as expressions of love and kindness, part of the karmic principle that what comes around goes around, though it is equally true that I have often (if not always) privately questioned the motivations behind the gesture.
On a related note, if a man is offering the kind gesture, can I accept the gift at face value, or must I always assume that ‘men are pigs’, as the expression goes? The truth is that while men constantly remind me that they are pigs, I have known some very kind men. If they’re being piggy in their heart of hearts, well, they haven’t imposed that on me, which I have always received as a sign of respect. No, I’m not blind or dumb, nor am I as naive as many would like to believe. I do recognize when a man is attracted to me, but that doesn’t mean I need to encourage him to sink to his lowest self, nor does it mean that I am interested in sinking to my baser self, either. Mutual attraction between two available people is one thing, but I don’t believe in bartering my affections for favors in return, period.
Experience has also taught me that intentions are not the same as actions, though actions (or inaction) are the real measure of a person. We intend to do this or that, but people judge us by what we actually do (or don’t). Moreover, while many people start out honorable in their intentions, given the right set of circumstances, people are capable of falling from grace in an instant. Sometimes it’s a tiny slip, other times it’s an irreparable fall.
From my perspective, as much as I want to believe in the inherent good of others, trust takes times to build. Lots of time. And sometimes that trust will be broken. Sometimes we will discover we were wrong about someone we chose to trust, though we may also discover we were right. Where I once used to place people on pedestals, I’ve come to accept that people are neither all good nor all bad, and all of us live our lives out in shades of grey. Moreover, as much as I want to seek and find the truth in every person and situation I encounter, it is not always possible. What is possible, however, is to know who I am and what I stand for. What is possible is learning to trust and honor our own instincts, our own choices and our own paths. After all, no one has our own best interests at heart as much as we do.
How do you establish and build trust with others? Do you tend to give people the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise, or do you approach people and relationships with a healthy dose of skepticism from the outset? How do you measure the intentions of others? Are you honest about your own intentions? How do you live and lead from your heart, without it shattering along the way? How to you learn to live, lead and work with others who cannot be trusted or do not share your same value system? How do you find that elusive balance between staying open to others, while listening, honoring and following our own internal compass and values?
15 thoughts on “Trust & Intentions”
I think it is impossible to be in a real relationship without disappointing the other at times. The question is, what happens next? Some of my deepest trusting relationships emerged after trust was broken and then repaired.
I really think you’re onto something, Jesse. I’m in a relationship that was rekindled after trust was broken and had to be restored. The key in that was, as some other people have noted, being willing to look at each other as we ARE rather what we WANT the other to be. When we trusted each other enough to be authentic, then we were able to fully love each other and less apt to be disappointed because there is now an attitude of full acceptance between us…warts and all! 🙂
Linda – That is the best kind of relationship! One where there is total transparency, authenticity and acceptance. Wonderful!
Great point, Jesse! Years ago I would feel disillusioned everytime someone let me down, but over the years, I’ve learned that the people I can trust the most are those who have not hidden behind the mask of perfection, but who have been fully human in their relationships, flaws and all. When a relationship, whether professional or personal, can withstand the trials of occasional failures followed by restoration, there develops a level of mutual trust and respect that can withstand the test of time.
I think we establish and build trust with others by being true to our word. If people know they can count on you to do exactly what you say they trust you.
That being said, I have a good friend who I would trust with my life. I know I can count on her, but she doesn’t always do what she says she’s going to do. But on the big things, the things that matter, she does; I know I can trust her.
I’ve always prided myself on being 100% true to my word. The only problem with that is I expect that in others. Your post made me realize that maybe I need to relax a bit and be more like my friend. That way I’ll be able to restore some relationships which have gone awry because of my high standards. Being more accepting sounds like a much better route to take.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Connie. Like you, I hold integrity high on my list of character traits, but I’ve learned through the years that all of us are fallible, to one degree or another. Like you, I have friendships that went awry because I was unforgiving in the standards I held myself and others to. My new attitude does not mean I am ‘settling’ or compromising my values or standards, but rather, I’m simply learning to meet and accept people where they are and as they are.
There is a quote about trust that I believe we all resonate with….
“The key is to get to know people and trust them to be who they are. Instead, we trust people to be who we want them to be- and when they’re not, we cry.”
Thanks for your thought provoking post.
Great quote, Lolly.
I think when we stop looking outside of ourselves and to others for all of the answers; when we become more self-aware and accepting of ourselves and our own truths, it’s easier to meet people where/as they are and to trust them to be who they are.
Thanks for chiming in. I always appreciate hearing from others and engaging in the conversation further!
Have a wonderful Easter Sunday…
This is an elegant post, Sharon. For me, the questions you ask are not ones that can be answered except in living them, and trusting something else — that wisdom more than absolutes or absolution will come. There’s a bittersweet, humbling quality about all that. The shades of gray become a poetry of spirit that others come to know you by. Your own poetry is so beautifully expressed here. Many thanks to Ellen for the connection. Best to you.
Thank you for your thoughtful response. We do indeed learn from our experience, which together with our internal values, becomes the foundation for our wisdom. Bittersweet, yes. Humbling, yes. But there is a certain strength that comes from allowing ourselves to remain vulnerable which I wouldn’t trade for anything.
Thankful to Ellen for the new connection.
Totally agree! There is great power…and grace…in keeping that door open. Just like those cherry blossoms at the top of the page. Stunning.
I am one of the people you met at the ISPI meeting you referred to. I am also the one who is going to the ASTD conference in Orlando, and I would like to meet up with you while we are there. I also found something in your blog I have to comment on.
I have been one of those people who continually puts certain people up on a pedistal and then expects things from them that most people just can’t live up to. I didn’t really think I was alone in this, but I have never heard anyone else admit to having this particular affliction. Thanks for sharing that one. I’ve been dissappointed so many times, mostly because of my unrealistic expectations, that I’m not as prone to it as I used to be, but I’m still pretty good at it. I tend to be one of those people who trusts people until they prove otherwise. It’s an idealistic way to go, but kind of costly. Thanks for sharing your tendencies in this trust area. It’s good to know I have company.
I’m doing some networking with other ASTD members from North Carolina to meet up at the conference. I hope you can join us. You have my email address now. Just let me know.
I have enjoyed your blog. You write beautifully. It’s kind of a lost art these days.
I remember you well, Dick, and appreciate you taking time to leave a comment on the blog.
Like you, I tend to want to believe in the best in people, though having learned (the hard way) and accepted that we all live out our lives in shades of grey, I find myself more accepting of others – both those in my every day life and my personal heroes. Take Greg Mortenson, for example. As a strong advocate for global literacy and gender equality, Greg’s work in Afghanistan has been an inspiration and I have considered him a personal hero of mine for some time. I have had the privilege of meeting him and found him personable and deeply committed to his cause. Still, time and evidence has suggested that he, too, is flawed and as capable as the next person of making poor decisions – decisions which have unfortunately derailed his credibility and undermined the good works he has been a part of. That is most unfortunate. In the past, I might have been angry or disillusioned with him, writing off him and everything he has done as fraudulent, but now I am better able to delicately hold the good and bad in balance, without losing all perspective. I don’t condone his poor choices, but I also recognize the good work he has done.
We all are cast of light and shadow, and it is where we put our emphasis…where we spend our energy…that dictates our personal choices, our performance and our capacity to lead others.
Thanks for chiming in. I would love to meet up with you and others at the ASTD conference and will be in touch.