Betrayal at the break of dawn

Trust is said to be key to a happy life and a good job performance. We function much better in high-trust environments than in low-trust ones, if research is to be believed – which is debatable.

Scientists like to remind us that most of their theories are fundamentally provisional and quite possibly wrong to some extent.

We all have trust issues from time to time: in relation to ourselves, our families, our partners, our friends, our colleagues, our employers, institutions, the media, politicians, governments – the list goes on.

Philosophers have sought to define the difference between mere reliance and trust: When we rely on something or someone in vain, we end up feeling disappointed; whereas when our trust is broken, we feel betrayed.

As I prepare for a new day, it strikes me that this is exactly how I am feeling – betrayed. Betrayed by the United States and the European Union, no less. I don’t trust their ability to defend human rights – and themselves – anymore. They seem clueless in the face of increasing internal and external manipulation.

Donald Trump, Brexit, Poland – it hurts to watch the manipulators succeed. Their efforts to tear Europe apart continue. Now Angela Merkel is in the crossfire.

I used to be healthily cautious regarding Finland’s big Eastern neighbour, Russia. Who wouldn’t be? As more and more evidence of Russian troll factories, fake news, and election manipulation surfaced, my caution turned to stark distrust.

When the White House openly stated that it doesn’t matter whether the incendiary, far-right anti-Muslim videos that Donald Trump recently retweeted are real or not, my distrust turned to outright fear.

It’s official. Truth doesn’t matter anymore.

The institutions I trust with my information and monies are set to betray my trust too. They admit it themselves with their constant warnings that my information, my credit cards, my bank accounts – even my identity – can easily be targeted by thieves. My friends have already been hit.

I feel unsafe on too many levels.

As if this wasn’t enough, one of my trusted news sources, the Finnish Broadcasting Company, just retracted its story about the moose that the Russians supposedly trained to be used in warfare. A Russian war museum (unwittingly?) presented this old April fools joke as a true story. It made Finnish prime time news without further scrutiny.

Who and what can I trust anymore?

Then again, isn’t this exactly how modern war is waged? By sowing distrust in governments, institutions, and trusted news sources?

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Dawn is breaking, as I continue my musings. What do we really mean with the word trust?

Our trust is often practical. We trust that a person or entity will act – or not act – in a specific way. Generally one that is beneficial to us, or at least predictable.

McKnight and Chervany mapped trust definitions in literature, and identified four key characteristics in trustees: benevolence, integrity, competence, and predictability.

Research indicates that we tend to trust people who we consider warm and competent, because we expect them to be benevolent and capable of delivering on their intentions. We make very quick (sometimes too quick) decisions as to who we trust or don’t trust.

When is it rational to trust? Only when you have a good reason to trust based on earlier experiences or data, or when there is no obvious reason for distrust?

Few of us trust unconditionally, irrespective of the intentions of the recipient of our trust. We try not to misplace our trust, but it’s not always that easy.

We are more likely to succeed in our choices, if we base them on complete information. Not many do, however. They may not have the access, time, skills, or money needed to seek it; or they may prefer to seek information only from sources that confirm their own beliefs.

Not to mention the fact that all sources are fallible. Remember the warrior moose.

Many of us are not cut out to calculate risk/benefit ratios effortlessly in our day-to-day decision making. At times we trust or distrust things more than their probability would warrant.

Our intuition is just as good as the knowledge and experiences we base it on; limited at best and totally wrong at worst.

It’s surprising that we get it right often enough to be able to trust anew. Some don’t.

Betrayal, perceived or real, can make people do inexplicable things. They may even choose to place their trust (what little they have left, if any) in a person whose benevolence, integrity, competence, and predictability is all but non-existent.

Those  who never trusted to begin with will merely feel disappointed when things don’t turn out as promised; those who jumped into trust in a fit of wild hope or sheer desperation will once again feel betrayed.

I revisited a book in my library titled This Will Make You Smarter. I hesitate to rely on the title’s promise, but it’s still an interesting read. One of the writers, Rudy Rucker, notes that every aspect of the world is fundamentally unpredictable. He goes on: “We can’t predict and we can’t control. To accept this can be a source of liberation and inner peace. We’re part of an unfolding world, surfing the chaotic waves.”

If we have fewer expectations, there will be fewer reasons to feel betrayed. But where is the challenge and growth in that?

Take fidelity, for instance. When we enter a serious relationship, many of us expect fidelity. Others argue that this is too much to expect.

Stephen M. Kosslyn brings up the concept of  “Constraint satisfaction” in his contribution to This Will Make You Smarter. “Perhaps paradoxically, adding constraints can actually enhance creativity – if a task is too open or unstructured, it may be so unconstrained that it’s difficult to devise any solution,” he notes.

Fidelity could be considered a constraint in a relationship but, to paraphrase Kosslyn, it’s one that adds structure and makes it easier to solve day-to-day relationship problems. In addition, it helps us create a high-trust environment and thereby function better.

Which reminds me that trust is important if we are to do better.

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As the sun rises, so does my determination. This is not the time to let myself be defeated by feelings of betrayal.

In fact, there is never a time to let ourselves be defeated by feelings of betrayal – whatever our trust issues are.

I accept the randomness of things, but I’m not ready to just surf the chaotic waves of life. Despite setbacks, I will once again allow myself to trust that truth and human decency will prevail; that change will be for the better in the end. It gives me the energy to fight for the things that matter to me – one vote, one action, one blog at a time.

And so a new day begins. Life beckons.

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