To Trust or Not to Trust
IT CAN be difficult to know whether to trust or not. Either course has its dangers, especially in a world where deception and betrayal are so pervasive. Yet we all need trusted friends who will support us in time of trouble. (Proverbs 17:17) About two thousand years ago, Roman writer Phaedrus expressed the dilemma this way: “To trust or not to trust is perilous.”
Trusting Can Be Perilous
Why might trusting someone else be perilous? Well, consider the warning given in Psychology Today magazine. It describes some who exploit people’s trust as “predators” who “use charm and chameleon-like coloration to deceive and manipulate those around them and damage their lives.” Obviously, with such deceivers around, being overly trusting is decidedly dangerous.
Someone who trusts too much may be gullible and, as a result, easily deceived and manipulated. One classic example of gullibility was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the originator of the clear-thinking master detective Sherlock Holmes. In 1917 two young girls, Elsie Wright and her cousin, Frances Griffiths, claimed that they had played with fairies in the garden of their home in Cottingley, England. They even produced photographs of the fairies to try to prove it.
Conan Doyle, who was deeply interested in spiritism following his son’s death, trusted them and believed the stories about the fairies—as did many people at the time. It was not until some 55 years later that the two girls admitted that it had all been a hoax and that they had cut the “fairies” out of a book before taking the photographs. Frances Griffiths expressed amazement that anyone believed their story. She said: “How on earth anyone could be so gullible as to believe that they were real was always a mystery to me.”—Hoaxers and Their Victims.
Can you see the trap that Conan Doyle fell into? He blindly trusted the story purely because he wanted it to be true. Says author Norman Moss: “We can be fooled simply because our perceptions are dulled by habit, and we look at things through half-closed eyes. . . . Sometimes, we accept a thing as true because it is something we want to be true.” (The Pleasures of Deception) That echoes the warning given by the famous Greek orator Demosthenes about 350 years before our Common Era: “The easiest thing of all is to deceive one’s self, for what a man wishes he generally believes to be true.” Trusting just in our feelings can be dangerous.
Of course, you might think that this is an extreme example and that Conan Doyle was more foolish than you would ever be. But it is not just the gullible who are in danger of being deceived. Many careful and normally cautious people have been fooled and deceived by seemingly trustworthy people.
Not Trusting Can Be Perilous
There are dangers, though, in not trusting anyone or anything. Distrust is like corrosive rust. It can erode and destroy what otherwise might be happy, close relationships. Deep-rooted cynicism and unyielding distrust can make you a very unhappy, friendless person. It can be so damaging to relationships with other people that English writer Samuel Johnson wrote, “it is happier to be sometimes cheated than not to trust.”
Distrust can even endanger your physical health. You may be aware that strong emotions like anger can expose you to the danger of heart attack. But did you know that some research suggests that being distrustful can do the same? Says Chatelaine magazine: “People who fly off the handle easily aren’t the only ones who may increase their chances of developing heart disease because of their behavior. New research indicates that even subtle forms of hostility, such as a tendency to be cynical and distrustful, can put you at risk.”
Consider Your Steps Carefully
What can you do? The Bible gives some good advice on this matter. “Anyone inexperienced puts faith in every word,” says Proverbs 14:15. This is not destructive cynicism. It is a realistic reminder of the need for caution. Only a very naive, inexperienced person is going to trust blindly every word he hears. With good reason the Bible proverb continues: “But the shrewd one considers his steps.” English playwright William Shakespeare wrote: “Trust not to rotten planks.” Anyone who thinks that the planks on a bridge over a deep drop may be rotten would be very foolish to step on them. How, then, can you ‘consider your steps’ so that you do not misplace your trust?
The Bible encourages us to test out what people say rather than just blindly accept everything we hear. “The ear itself makes a test of words, just as the palate tastes when eating,” it says. (Job 34:3) Isn’t that true? Don’t we usually taste food before we swallow it? We should also make a test of people’s words and actions before we swallow them. No one who is genuine will take offense if we check his credentials. That we should check to see that something is genuine is supported by the Scottish proverb that says: “He that deceives me once, shame fall him; if he deceives me twice, shame fall me.”
The apostle Paul advised: “Put all things to the test.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21, Today’s English Version) The word used by the apostle Paul for “test” was also used in connection with testing precious metals to see if they were genuine. A prudent person always tested to see if what he was buying was genuine. Otherwise he might have ended up with what was called fool’s gold—something that looked like gold but that was, in fact, worthless.
Be Reasonable and Balanced
Of course, we want to be reasonable in this matter and not be unduly suspicious of others. (Philippians 4:5) Do not be quick to impute bad motives to anyone. Misreading motives can be the quickest way to wreck fine, close relationships. It is usually best to assume that your friends want to do what is best for you rather than attribute bad motives to them when difficult situations arise.
Make allowances for the imperfections and mistakes of others. “Betrayal by a friend means a violation of trust,” says writer Kristin von Kreisler. However, such betrayal might be unintentional or may have been the result of weakness now deeply regretted. Therefore, she continues: “Don’t dwell on the betrayal—or let it keep you from trusting others.” Do not let bitter, negative experiences rob you of the joys that can come from building trusting relationships with others.
Be balanced. You do not need to wear blinders when evaluating people; a cautious person keeps his guard up. On the other hand, Doctor Redford Williams suggests that we try to assume that others are doing the best they can, try to understand their point of view, and “practise trusting others” whenever possible. It may be better to trust too much than never to trust at all.
The writer of the Bible book of Proverbs acknowledges that “there exist companions disposed to break one another to pieces”—that is, people who will try to exploit your trust. The world is full of them. But give others the time and the opportunity to demonstrate that they are trustworthy, and you will find friends who will, in fact, ‘stick closer than a brother.’—Proverbs 18:24.
Is there anyone or anything, then, that you can trust totally, without any fear that your trust will be exploited or betrayed? Yes, there certainly is. The next article will briefly consider where you can place your trust with complete confidence.
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“Anyone inexperienced puts faith in every word, but the shrewd one considers his steps.”—Proverbs 14:15
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Make allowances for the imperfections and mistakes of others