Sunday, December 8, 2013


123. The destruction of distrust


Trust is needed to give some space to others for choice and action. The alternative is to lock up the other in measures of control and monitoring.

However, while distrust is destructive it is itself difficult to destroy. Deep distrust will always defeat trust.

In a relationship that starts with distrust others have to prove that they are trustworthy. This is doomed to fail. Proving one’s trustworthiness is logically impossible in the same way that it is to prove that a theory is true. No matter how often or long a theory has been corroborated, i.e. not contradicted by observations, it remains possible that it will be falsified in the future. In the same way, no matter how often one shows one’s trustworthiness, in keeping to agreements and promises, and taking positive action to mutual advantage or even from altruism, and being open about mistakes and failures, this does not prove that next time one will not break trust.

Since trustworthiness cannot be proved, and the possibility of its lack remains, the mistrustful are inclined to impose ever-stronger tests of trustworthiness. But there is no logical end to this. At some point the people who remain mistrusted will break out and exit. And the mistrustful will interpret this as evidence of untrustworthiness.

If a relationship is started in distrust, and people have to prove their trustworthiness, they will avoid all actions that may break expectations, which would likely be seen as a confirmation of untrustworthiness. No opposition will be voiced. I once worked at a university faculty where the dean took the stance that people must first prove their trustworthiness. It led to an organization of ‘yes-men’, lack of criticism, sweet-talking the dean, a culture of fear and conformism. It is the only case that I know of where in the end a dean was deposed by a university board.

By the same mechanism, in the difficult struggle of going from eros to philia, discussed in a preceding item of this blog, a deep fear of vulnerability and failure may yield the stance that now the other has prove his/her trustworthiness, and then the destruction of love sets in, leading to an exit which is seen as a confirmation of untrustworthiness, or lack of love.

Deep distrust can keep one from engaging in relationships that would allow people to show their trustworthiness. Trust, on the other hand, enables relationships and can be adjusted when untrustworthiness manifests itself.

In contrast with distrust, trust, with its assumption that another is trustworthy, can be falsified by evidence to the contrary. However, if the room for action offered by trust leads to a disappointment of expectations, that does not necessarily prove untrustworthiness. It can be due to a mishap, a mistake, or lack of attention. One should extend benefit of the doubt and engage in voice, a discussion of what is going on, allowing for mistakes or lack of competence, and be open about one’s own errors and mistakes. When this voice does not work one can reduce the space for action, extending control, or one can go for exit. Trust is imperfection on the move.