DRMacIver's Notebook

Trust beyond reason

Trust beyond reason

To quote from one of my all time favourite books:

"You? I know you! You trust beyond reason."

"Yes. It's how I get results beyond hope. As you may recall."

This is a very powerful strategy, and as a result of following it (and, it must be said, a great deal of luck) almost everyone who is important to me is someone I trust.

I don't trust them all the same amount of course. They're also not important to me to the same amount. But, by and large, the more important someone is to me the more I am able to trust them.

Let's back up. What do I mean by trust? And important?

A good rule of thumb for what "trust" means that I came up with a while ago is this: Central to trust is the ability to tell someone true things, especially about yourself, and be confident that this will not go badly for you. It's not that their interests are perfectly aligned with yours, but they are in some relatively fundamental sense on your side and will not use your confidence against you. There are many other senses of trust, many of them well correlated, but this is the one I will focus on.

(Unfortunately it turned out that I could not, in this sense, trust the friend who I came up with this definition in tandem with, and we are no longer friends. Trust is a powerful but high risk strategy).

Importance in the sense I'm talking about is how much power you have over each other's lives, how intertwined they are with you, how much you need to care about what they think or do. A stranger is low importance. A friend is higher importance. A romantic partner potentially higher yet (but not necessarily! It depends a lot on the friend, or the partner).

Importance in this sense isn't about moral worth (a stranger is unimportant to me in this sense, but that doesn't mean they lack moral significance. They're still important as a person, but that doesn't make them important to you). It's also not about love - your boss is very important to you in this sense, but that doesn't necessarily mean you even like them.

Having people who are important to you but whom you don't trust is a very bad thing. Your life becomes unsafe, and you are constantly hiding from them, worrying about how they will use their power against you if they discover your secret. This is an awful place to be in, and it is one that most people find themselves in to some degree or another.

For a lot of people, family are among the most important people. They have a huge impact on us, and on our emotional lives. In this sense, my strong link between trust and importance is luck: I have a great family, and I trust them. This was probably foundational for me in being able to build trust with other people. For a lot of people, this is not true, and that is where they learn about trust and learn to avoid it. I had my own problems in this regard, mostly school related. It took me a long time to learn that more people were trustworthy than I thought.

Given the freedom of adulthood, you don't have to have the same problems, because of one very simple observation: It is much easier to make people who you already trust important to you than it is to learn to trust people who are already important to you.

If someone has power over you, revealing information to them is high risk. If they can use that information to harm you, and they have the power to harm you, you are literally putting yourself in danger by revealing this information. Safety is very important to being able to grow trust, and people who are important to you but untrustworthy are not safe.

This means that you need to start by trusting people much earlier than you are inclined to do so, before they become important to you.

In Mark Manson's surprisingly good book about dating, Models he talks about polarising as a dating strategy: People are in one of three categories "Not interested", "Interested", and "Unsure". When they are in the "Not interested" category it's not worth trying to move them out of it. Your job when dating is to move people from the "Unsure" category into one of the other two. And, to a first approximation, moving them into either category is a success, as long as you do so by being authentically yourself in ways that they would find out anyway later.

Polarizing is not a dating specific strategy, it's fairly general purpose: It's a specific implementation of doing something as a cheap experiment to learn about the world. However, it does rely quite heavily on one specific feature of dating: Early on in the dating process, the people you're trying to date just don't matter to you that much. You need to behave decently towards them, but their opinion of you isn't actually very important. If they decide they don't like you, that's fine.

In this sense, trust is a polarizing strategy, and it's one that is important to apply early on in the relationship before someone becomes important to you. If you trust someone excessively and it goes badly, but they don't matter to you, you can just kick them to the curb. In general, trusting someone at a level that seems slightly excessive for their level of importance to you will help you sort people in your life who you want to be more important to you than they are from those who you want to be less important than they are.

And it does need to be excessive. It needs to be trust beyond reason. Not beyond all reason, but somewhat beyond what currently seems reasonable. If it is not, then unless they are prepared to take the first move, you will never find the signs you need to move to a higher level of mutual trust.

Sometimes this will go badly, but you need to be able to try bad things.

It's important not to be reckless (especially when physical safety is concerned), and it's easy to fall into the trap of oversharing. This strategy is scary, not simple, and definitely not easy, but when you can pull it off it provides amazing rewards.