“You may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will live in torment if you don't trust enough.” Frank Crane
"Be open to new people and experiences."
"Believe in your potential and abilities."
"Have faith that things will change for the better."
All these pieces of advice have one thing in common; they hinge on trust -- trust in others, yourself and the unknown. And while we may acknowledge that this makes sense on one level, we all know what it’s like to be conned.
The world can be a hurtful, suspicious, fear-ridden place and people with unbound optimism are often labeled fools. Just look around. Who in their right mind would trust a politician or a wall street banker or even a commissioned salesperson? But those in a state of constant heightened suspicion are more foolish than we realize. Operating from a place of constant wariness and fear is crippling.
Ultimately, it comes down to deciding if the payoff of trusting people and the world is worth the risk of potentially getting hurt. It’s easy to say it is, in theory, but anyone with PTSD may logically argue otherwise. Even if you have not experienced one of the many real and horrifying traumas of the world, there are benefits to being the “glass half empty” person. You get to be safe. You get to be righteous when things fall apart. And you get to be cynical, sarcastic and clever vs some bumbling, Pollyanna optimist.
While a pessimist gets to be righteous, they’re not really “right.” According to Cornell researcher David Dunning, we generally underestimate our species trustworthiness overall. Dunning’s research showed that when subjects were asked if they thought their unknown experiment partner would share money in a trust game, only 37% thought the strangers would share, when, in fact, 67% of subjects did split the cash.
Dunning says trust is key to human functionality, “Trust is crucial not just for established relationships, it’s also especially vital between strangers within social groups who have no responsibility toward each other outside of a single, transitory interaction. eBay or farmers’ markets couldn’t exist without trust among strangers.”
Is it any wonder then that having “trust issues” becomes a pervasive problem in everyday life? Not to mention lack of trust is a dark cloud that starts in one area and spreads over all. A boyfriend cheats and suddenly all men seem to be cheaters, you can no longer trust your judgement and decision making, and even your life path falls under suspicion. Do you always want the wrong things? Are you holistically dysfunctional?
You’re not, but you will be if you continue to operate from a place of total mistrust in yourself, the world and relationships. Trust is vital for a fulfilling life, internal peace and positive relationships. If you’re ready to let go of the small benefits of suspicion and pessimism for the larger benefits of openness, here are a few tools for regaining trust in life.
Get Aware - Slow down and be mindful of your suspicion. Trace it back to its roots. Often biography is biology. What in your past severed your natural trust in things? How does this affect your life now if not trusting in things is normalized behavior.
Get Real - Run some worst case scenarios around trust. Let yourself be ridiculous. Every guy on the street is a killer, every co-worker is a selfish backstabber, every family member is a taker. Now run these fears up against reality. Even the simple reality of David Dunning’s Cornell study would imply you could trust in about 67% of people to be generous, and that’s not even implicating the other 33% as evil. They are more likely a mix of opportunistic, indifferent or also non-trusting.
Considering this, how would you behave knowing that only 20% of the world is ungenerous? And what if we told you that studies show people who are open and get to know people, are more likely spot those who are untrustworthy? It turns out Ernest Hemingway was right when he said, “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”
Get Proactive - If you’d like more generous and trustworthy people in your life, go be generous and trustworthy. Be the change you wish to see. Stop reacting to negative things and people in your life and make positive connections out in the world. The mind and body benefits of optimism are real and you can reap those benefits by changing your mindset and changing your life with your daily decisions.
Get Compassionate - Hurt people hurt people. It’s wrong, it sucks, it’s tragic, but what happens to you is never deserved and never your fault. Hurtful behavior is not to be taken personally. Often the key to realizing that is realizing why a person would ever hurt you in the first place. And exploring that requires compassion on your part. You have to let go of enough hurt and anger to see the injured person that hurt you, for who they are, so you can understand why they acted so rotten.
Wouldn’t you like to know what it feels like to live into the world from a place of trust? What could you do if you felt supported by those around you, felt that the world would be generous with you and that you could be kind and compassionate both with yourself and with others? Sounds awesome, right? It’s worth a shot.