On Trust

Trust is a strange concept. It can work on many levels, and it can govern entire behavioral patterns. I find it interesting, and extremely sad, that many of the worlds problems could be solved, or at least mitigated, if we could learn to trust again.

Consider law.

Many of the issues that we keep inventing finer and finer grained laws to solve, could be avoided if we made fairly broad global laws and applied two realms of trust.

  • Trust in our fellow human being to abide by the spirit of the global law, and to "do what is right".
  • Trust in those who we designate to uphold the law to interpret the global law as it applies to a given situation.

Look at the oft-cited example of the theft of some bread by a starving man. The global law says "do not steal". The starving man MUST steal to survive, even though he respects the law. In this case, the second Trust example should apply - the "enforcers" should interpret the law as "do not steal unless you must in order to survive, and then only in a way that causes the least inconvenience." Thus, the crime is not really a crime. It was so judged on the spot, and we needed no extra clauses to the law.

As an example of "Trust in our fellow human being", again, the global law says "do not steal". So where is the need to buy expensive alarm systems to protect our property? If we simply all trusted each other, this would not be required.

Now at about this point, you will have realised that this is all idealism in the extreme. Like communism, it is a great idea on paper, but can never work in practice due to one overwhelming factor: human nature. Yes, we are a greedy, grasping, nasty bunch of so called civilised human beings. We are all out for number one in some way - I'm sure even great humanitarians secretly enjoy the kudos they receive for their good deeds!

So. If this is the case, what is the point of attempting to trust?

Well, I am certainly no christian, but I do believe that "that book" got more than a few things right from an ethical point of view. The biggest of all for me, is the underlying guideline for my proposed two realms of trust described above:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Think about that. If you treat people with trust 100% of the time, you may get burned occasionally, but the effects will hopefully flow on to those you interact with, and to those that the ones you have trusted interact with, and so on, exponentially. (Interestingly, not found stated as such in “that book”.)

Is upping the trust quotient of the world by 0.01% worth getting burned a few times? In my opinion, yes. It has to start somewhere.

--GreigMcGill Originally written July 2000

Addendium to Trust

Trust is an interesting abstract concept, however I'm not sure it's well defined. Do I trust someone?, well that depends! I consider two unique trusts, explicit and implicit trust. Explicit trust is where you trust someone's word - if they say they will (or won't) do something, you can trust them on their word. Implicit trust is what I consider something more powerful and rare. Implicit trust is that while my friends are working late, I won't run around to their place and sleep with their wife. I should not have to tell them I will never do this, it's simply back to Greig's biblical point. So, if asked if I trust someone, I'll ask to what extent - you ought to always (be able to) trust your friends, but you need not be friends with those you trust (explicitly at least).

-- JamesSpooner