Friday, April 11, 2014

Trust but verify

Stephen King once said, if internet is to be believed: “ The trust of the innocent is the liar's most useful tool. “
This is, of course, correct.  There is a popular belief out there, that people are gullible because they are too trusting of others.  But trust is very complex.  If we chose to guard ourselves from all the evil things and people in the world by trusting nobody, aren’t we also closing ourselves from the love, the support, the richness of life that relationships bring, and yes perhaps, some pain too but the point is that we close ourselves from life.  

Gullibility and trust are interconnected but not in a way one might think.  Gullibility has been identified as a component of evolution. Children are born gullible in order to survive. They need to be able to trust their parents’ warnings and thus need to be gullible, or if you prefer, naïve. In the olden days, parents didn’t employ nannies and did not have an array of safety features to safeguard their homes, in fact children were often left to tend to themselves. It was imperative that they trust the parents without hesitation in order not to set themselves on fire or drown in the nearby well.

Children are programmed to grow out of this gullibility as they grow up and as they acquire life experience. At some point, every child will ask themselves how come that Santa is able to be in every home on Christmas eve if he is just one man.  I have had experience with children telling me that they go along with the toothfairy story because they think their parents enjoy it… and of course, there is money to be made.

Trust is not just a part of the interpersonal relationships but exists in business too. If you come across as very sceptical and very untrusting, people will generally think you are paranoid and unpleasant to be around.  Also research has shown that those that trust others are less, rather than more gullible.  Studies have found that people who are more trusting are also better at predicting the behaviour of others. This is because trusting others opens up opportunities to gain experience in dealing with others and also to learn from our mistakes.
One of the studies looking at trust, identified two types of trusting individuals, those that are trusting but are also vigilant and those that are indiscriminate in the way they trust. 

Let’s say you have a friend who borrowed money from you and promised to repay you within a month and then you never heard from them again for two years. And then the same friend asks you for some more money out of the blue and promises to repay you the whole amount he or she owes you within a month…what would you do?  You can say no, but this may make them angry and you may not get back what you have already given them or you could lend them more money in hope they will repay it back.  I guess this situation also depends on the type of friendship but behaviour has been found the best predictor of future behaviour so you would be wise not to trust them again and lose more good money after bad.  There are always exceptions to the rule but these are so rare that it is best to see situations as rules rather than exceptions.   

Trust is part of our lives. We trust that the doctor has our best interests at heart, that the government knows what they are doing and that the food we eat is safe. We need to trust someone or something every day.  If we want to be socially competent, we need to trust others.  This trust will be abused at times but the best we can do is to learn to place our trust in those people who seem to be trustworthy and be on the look out for signs that someone is not trustworthy.  After all, if the bird in the photograph was not trusting the situation, it would miss out on the easy food.  So I leave you with this quote by Ernest Hemingway: “The best way to find out if you can trust someone is to trust them.”

Photographs by: Andre Gagne

Dawkins, R. (2004). A devil's chaplain: Reflections on hope, lies, science, and love. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Greenspan, S. (2008a). Annals of Gullibility: Why We Get Duped and How to Avoid It: Why We Get Duped and How to Avoid It. ABC-CLIO.

Markóczy, L. (2003, July). Trust but verify: Distinguishing distrust from vigilance. In Presentado en la Academy of Management Conference en Seattle

Yamagishi, T., Kikuchi, M., & Kosugi, M. (1999). Trust, gullibility, and social intelligence. Asian Journal of Social Psychology, 2(1), 145-161. 

Yamagishi, T., & Kakiuchi, R. (2000). It takes venturing into a tiger’s cave to steal a baby tiger: Experiments on the development of trust relationships. The Management of Durable Relations, 121-3

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