Who Can You Trust–and How?




How do we know who is trustworthy and who isn’t?  That depends on each of us.   Trust in a relationship is a two-way street.  We need to know how to build trust, to evaluate it, bank it, and share it.  Without trust, it is hard to create a fulfilling life.

Trust is necessary

“Trust is the coin of the realm,” claimed former secretary of state George P. Shultz.   “If it is present, anything is possible. If it is absent, nothing is possible.”

His advice appeared in an opinion piece in the Washington Post in December,  2020.  He wrote it two days before his before his 100th birthday.  The amazing title: “The 10 most important things I’ve learned about trust over my 100 years.” 

He died in February, 2021.

Clearly, Shultz has banked a fortune in trust currency.  He served in several administrations, heading the treasury and labor departments and the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB).  Currently he is a distinguished fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

Trust is in short supply

Alas, in today’s geopolitical world with its breaking news headlines, trust has seemed to be in short supply.  The coins of the realm have too often been mistrust, suspiciousness, racism, tribalism, intolerance, uncertainty, acrimony, and confusion.  Nothing could better illustrate this pervasive toxic climate than the turmoil in our Capitol on January 6, 2021.

For some of us, these headwinds in the world seem all too familiar.  We may have experienced, first-hand, trauma or neglect, searching in vain for a trustworthy outstretched hand.  The trickle-down impact of the noise at the top intensifies mistrust in our personal lives and relationships.

Trusting types

How one decides if a person is trustworthy is not a simple matter.  Some of us are naturally trusting souls, usually assuming that others are honest and truthful.  Others are basically “glass half-empty” suspicious types who expect others to be dishonest or unreliable or disappointing.

There are pros and cons to each type.  Trusting types can agreeably interact with others and establish gratifying relationships.  But if they are too trusting, they might be gullible and naïve.  Then they’re in for a rude awakening when taken advantage of.  Suspicious types have a “prove it” mantra. They reserve judgment about others until satisfied they can be trusted.  Being too critical or negative about others, however, may sabotage relationships that otherwise might have been mutually rewarding.

Trust your Self-Portrait

In the language of NPSP25, naturally trusting people would likely score high on Devoted, Self-sacrificing, and Dramatic styles.  The more skeptical “wait and see” types might show high scores on Vigilant, Serious, and Idiosyncratic styles.  Recognizing which styles are prominent in your own Self-Portrait could be helpful.  Perhaps you want to work on becoming a little less automatically trusting.  Or maybe you’d like to be  a little less inclined to keep your distance from others.

First and last: Tell the truth

“Trust is fundamental, reciprocal and, ideally, pervasive,” wrote Shultz.  He also noted that “emotional bonds build trust.”  But truth is an essential ingredient.