It’s easy to make a blanket statement that we should trust people more. This statement, however, is simplistic and wrong.
We should be careful who we trust. There are people out there who would use our trust to secure unfair financial gain from us. There are those who would use our trust to destroy our lives. There are those who would use our trust to elevate themselves to the level of a cult leader, which we have seen in the form of cults of personality, religious cults, fringe political movements, and militant cults.
We cannot blindly trust. So how do we manage trust safely?
1) Don’t use heuristics as a substitute for information. A heuristic is an information-sorting rule that substitutes, often poorly, for the actual information. We use heuristics every day to our peril: “He’s a clergyman. I can trust him with my kids.” “I heard it on TV — it must be correct.” “Nothing illegal could be happening in such a nice neighborhood.” We should be asking questions: What are this person’s actual credentials? Do they extend to the area in which we are trusting them?
2) Practice risk/benefit. Does the risk of having our trust betrayed outweigh the benefit of trusting? Use this to set a boundary around every decision involving trust: Would I trust this politician to take out my appendix? Would I trust the person I’ve just met to take care of my children? Would I trust anyone other than my spouse with my bank account number?
3) Weigh the emotional against reason. We often choose to trust for emotional reasons — relief, cease from worry, desire. Emotions can be powerful, but they can be countered by rational thinking as I’ve outlined above: information, risk/benefit. Force yourself to wait.
4) Be extra cautious in times of turmoil. We are desperate to trust, so we become less discriminating; we want to believe and so we give our trust to the unscrupulous. Remember that, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
To some extent, we need to trust, or else we will miss out on our connection with others. We will miss out on having our needs met. We will not thrive. However, we can trust wisely and protect ourselves, in times of turmoil and in times of calm.