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Trust: A Self-Examination

Herb Stevenson
March 31, 2015

“Trust is a many splendored thing” may seem like an odd way to start this article. Typically, we tend toward a perspective that trust either exists or it does not. We tend to act as if it is a passive process based on our experiences with other people, be they bosses, peers, direct reports, spouses or friends. It becomes an active experience when something drastically changes our perception; i.e. we become fonder or disappointed, often experiencing it as a complete reframe of our self, our perception and the other person.

When I took a deeper examination, I returned to my gestalt and existential roots to get a clearer perspective of what is this nefarious word we call trust. In my search, I began to realize that trusting is something we “individually do; it is something we make, we create, we build, we maintain, we sustain with our promises, our commitments, our emotions and our sense of our own integrity.” (Solomon & Flores) p. 5) In many ways, it is at the core of our own self perception of who we are as a person. Moreover, it is often a passive process that is managed reactively (tied to an emotive past) instead of actively or pro-actively.

As I examined it more deeply, I discovered that the lack of conscious awareness of the importance of actively engaging both the possibility of trust and distrust was more like a self-created trap than a true strategy for being fully present and therefore effective as a person. The trap involves not acknowledging and “owning” that my perception of another person involves the constant “possibility of betrayal.” What I do with that possibility is the crux of developing and creating trust within myself and with another person. If I fully embrace that possibility, I realize that every person is more than any heightened moment of trust or distrust and therefore requires my digging deep into my reactions to such situations; else, I may pre-judge the person (and situation) from my preconceived notions of what is expected (or preferred). My prejudgement is akin to my shadow, the unconscious, unclaimed aspects of myself, that rears up when triggered from unfinished or incomplete but judged experiences from my past. My presence to fully engage with the possibility returns me to my true self when I consciously choose to trust or to distrust by recognizing that the act and therefore this relationship is more than this particular event, be it an act of perceived betrayal or an act of fondness in the form unexpected recognition and/or significant support.

Some Application

TrustIn relationships, there tends to be passive agreement in the form of the unwritten rules of civility. Culturally, there may be variations. Nonetheless, they exist. Solomon and Flores refer to this process as “cordial hypocrisy: the strong tendency of people..., because of loyalty or fear, to pretend that there is trust when there is none, being polite in the name of harmony when cynicism and distrust are active poisons, eating away at the very existence of ...their relationships.” We frequently refer to these as the cultural dynamics impacting the relationship—family, religion, ancestry, etc. For example, a cliche that reflects the cultural dynamics of trust is captured in the phrase knowing the unwritten rules of “what feeds or eats you”. Knowing the difference matters in terms of survival; and, in such situations, there is a pre-judged process of how to make meaning of what to trust or to distrust. Moreover, the shared perception is that there is no choice to individually decide. This leads to shadow behavior.

Similarly, all relationships have cultural dynamics that lie embedded within how each person makes meaning of any situation. Heated arguments within many marriages often develop over time as differences surface and we realize that this person is not who we thought that were. Small acts that seem harmless to one become large acts of betrayal to the other.

Authentic trust goes beyond our experience and perceptions of benevolence, integrity, competence, and predictability. It is always about the relationship between individuals and how we choose to hold the person (positively or negatively) and to make meaning of events. In short, we constantly and most often unconsciously make decisions to trust. We make promises and tacit commitments. We see them through. We come to have expectations of others, and we respond to the fulfillment and frustration of those expectations. Trust is not something we ‘have’ or a medium or an atmosphere within which we operate. Trust is something we do, something we make. Our mutual choices of trust determine nothing less than the kinds of beings we are and the kinds of lives we will live together. It begins with trusting our self.

An Example

TrustAn individual struggled between being a hard charging, directive wielding and punishing individual and a sincere and supportive parent. Under duress, the less stellar behaviors were often released whereas the more supportive individual appeared when the family performance was deemed according to his expectations. Cordial hypocrisy seeped throughout the home.

After a careful discussion of the behavioral elements of trust and distrust, I realized that he had no understanding that trust is relational and that he had an active responsibility to chose to trust or not and moreover to be responsible for his contribution to whether or not the relationships within the family were defined by trust or distrust. He believed that he had eminent trust from the fact that he was the parent....akin to the ‘great father syndrome’ where because I am the Father, all my sins must be forgiven...a backhanded "honor thy parents cultural perception regardless of the behavior." Regardless of his untested for reasonableness expectations, he believed he had no responsibility to make or create trust in the family.

TrustNot all things end well. It became clear that the individual simply viewed himself having no responsibility (or culpability) for his behavior. Family morale declined to the point that it was clear that something had to change. His wife filed for divorce and took the children, who made it clear that they wanted to be with their mother.


In retrospect, I realized that I had insufficient understanding of how to create personal awareness for this individual surrounding how he was impacting trust within the family and moreover how he was not trusting the family to be a family in its own evolving form. I was not clear within myself how to explain what is trust and that we create, make, and be it when consciously being present to the person, situation, or crisis.

What is a consciously aware Trust1

Assuming a fully present, consciously aware stance, I began to explore what is trust. I came to understand that authentic trust—

Return to the Situation

As I further reflected on the individual, I realized that his focus of command and control drove all of his behavior. He could not conceive that increasing trust does not increase control. Nor could he grasp that by easing the reins of control, it improves relationships. Rather, he clung to his ability to hold others responsible by quickly blaming them for either failing or misunderstanding his changing expectations. Trust requires real authority and autonomy to fully be who one is in the relationship. He could not confer either authority or autonomy to anyone else.


Robert C. Solomon & Fernando Flores, Building Trust: In business, politics, relationships, & life. Oxford University Press, 2001


1 Adapted from Solomon and Flores


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