Posted by: Millard J. Melnyk | June 12, 2013

Contemplating Trust

Glenn Beck repents on national TV

Glenn Beck repents on national TV

We’ve had some interesting discussions lately about trust on the Facebook group Awakening Together. Today, a member posted a video of Glenn Beck’s recent on-air confession. Check it out on YouTube: Glenn Beck’s On-Air Confession

Great vid! Even I was moved, which when it comes to Beck is saying a lot!

Changing Stripes?

Beck used to be an idiot. Take that however you like. If I’d made that statement before his addiction scandal came to light and you happened to like Beck, I retro-predict that you would have objected to it. And I would have been right. And you would have been listening to a closet addict who would later basically call himself an idiot on national TV. So how could I have been wrong then but right now, seeing that Beck himself agrees with me? In the answer to that question lie the hypocritical seeds of intimidation and impotence that characterize our society.

Watching the vid offered a cool opportunity for me and makes for a great illustration of what we can do when our trust has been damaged, or even if it never existed.

As I watched, I couldn’t help but empathize and feel moved. A big part of me didn’t like that and suspected that Beck’s motives for the confession weren’t sincere. I didn’t repress that part, but honored it. Is it possible that this was a masterful ploy to keep his voice on the air by revitalizing his platform, as I presume that talking for a living is what he knows? Was his actual but unstated awakening that, given the revelations of government corruption over the last decades, (pretty much non-stop since Viet Nam,) continuing to stand on his old platform at this point would just make him seem like a ridiculous joke? Of course it’s possible. Is it just as possible that he went on air to admit the truth, apologize, and kick-start an entirely new direction? Of course it is. So, what should I trust? It seems like a tie. What’s the tie-breaker?

People Are the Point

Trust isn’t about facts, but about people. The question isn’t what we should trust, but if we want to trust someone. Notice that we usually ask the question, “Can I trust… ?” Before we ask if we can, we should always ask if we want to. Why care about the possibilities if it’s something we don’t want? And if it’s something we really want, we usually find a way, and so the answer to “Can I?” turns out to be “Yes,” making the question rhetorical.

For me, people are always the tie-breakers, because people are always the most important factor; in this case, Beck himself. He “said” those things, (quite well, by the way–interesting how strong silence can be…) so I take them on face value and honor him, his experience, his message, and the possibility that it’s all sincere. I also honor the possibility that it’s a ploy and he did a very good job of bullshitting, hoping to keep his career afloat. I honor it all. Doing otherwise would force me to distrust, and I don’t like distrust. It feels icky. I’d have to distrust some of the information that seems valid to me at this point or, even worse, distrust my own judgment because some of it recognizes the dark side, not just the light side.

I think that this is the rub concerning trust for a lot of people: they are afraid of the dark side. Some of them will jump all over you or put you on mute if you point darkness out, as if they think that’s all you see or want to see. Why be so negative, after all? Well, the simple and honest answer is: because some things are negative. A lot, actually. Even more, though, succumb to the scourge of rational thinking everywhere: intolerance for cognitive dissonance. How can I honor both sides like that? Isn’t it indecisive, contradictory, or even two-faced? LOL! No, not if I’m not ready to make a decision, yet. Like Nilsson’s The Point so nicely pointed out, being opinionated is not a virtue, especially not when we have little basis for our opinions. But you’d never know it to listen to people spout opinions right and left all the livelong day, only to confidently throw around the opposite after realizing their mistake.

(I do note that Beck didn’t go so far as to withdraw from nationally aired vocalism. If I were all torn up about publicly making a fool of myself for years, I think I’d at least take a little time off to reflect, process, and regroup. Maybe Beck’s central processing unit got upgraded along with his awakening. Mine certainly wouldn’t keep up.)

Trusting Trust

Reagan’s “trust, but verify” didn’t involve real trust at all, because he reserved control over the “verification” process. The alternative, though, isn’t blind trust. Blind trust is, “Trust.” No verification of any kind. When our insistence on verification gets decried as distrust, we can be sure that bullshit is behind it. Trustworthy people are glad to have their trustworthiness recognized and validated. So, if Reagan’s and the con artist’s versions are bogus, what makes for real trust?

Neither party has a problem with verification when both sincerely want to trust each other. Real trust leaves control of the verification process in the hands of the person being trusted. Real trust is, “I trust, you demonstrate.” This not only signals trust, which is what Reagan did, but it also communicates trust that the other party can feel. As Paul Zak, Brené Brown, and other researchers are convincing us, this actually evokes trustworthiness and reciprocal trust in the person we trust. That has a lot of advantages, the top three in my opinion being:

  1. The people being trusted are free to do whatever they like, and so are much more likely to reveal the truth.
  2. The burden of proof of trust rests on them, not you.
  3. If they demonstrate untrustworthiness, they revealed it themselves and can’t scapegoat you by characterizing you as a malicious critic because, by that time, others can see it, too.

My approach to trust? I trust that Glenn Beck could be telling the truth, and that I’m completely happy to assume that he is telling the truth. I’m happy about it and I’m happy for him. Does that mean that I need to quash my suspicions or pretend that I’m making more than an assumption? No, of course not. The trust I extend in this case is my willingness to assume the best instead of the worst and my sincere hope that, things being the best, it will be a great new period in his life and the lives of all his listeners. Who knows? Maybe I’ll check him out when he gets his voice back.

Does recognizing the possibility that my suspicions might prove true indicate distrust? No, because trust must be based on fact, not supposition. My trust can only go so far, depending on what I believe is true at the time. I could be wrong and find out that more trust was indicated, but that’s OK. That’s just a mistake. I make them all the time and haven’t died once. In fact, they’ve become a lot of fun, precisely because I know that I can walk away from the crash every time, then go back and examine the wreckage to see what went wrong. (I’m still trying to learn how to handle the complaints I get from people I freak out by crashing, but I notice that they didn’t die, either.)

If I find out that more trust was called for, I adjust. I would have trusted if I’d known, and now that I know, I trust. Notice that in all this I’m vulnerable to the risk of being wrong and whatever consequences that entails. I think that trying to eliminate that vulnerability is what leads us to disingenuous trust and distrust.

Disingenuous trust is “trust” that extends beyond an adequate factual basis. We engage in it when we need something to be true but don’t have the confidence to trust it naturally given the facts. Our need makes us suggestible, vulnerable to exploiters who recognize and take advantage of our suggestibility. This doesn’t result in real trust, but the kind of eerily exaggerated, one-way “trust” that abusive relationships and cults are built on.

Distrust is the dark side of disingenuous trust. It’s a predisposition based on supposition–not fact–that makes us trust less than we actually could and should, even if we and others suffer as a result.

I love giving people the benefit of the doubt. It’s like handing them a rope. They can do something constructive with it, or they can fashion a noose, slip it around their own necks, and jump. All the power is in their hands, and I have the confidence and security not to interfere with what they do, unless they clearly start hurting people, even if it’s me or themselves. Then I intervene.


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