To trust or not to trust? That’s the question we often ask ourselves when we meet someone for the first time or encounter strangers. Trust: it’s about believing others, taking their word and seeing the best in them.
I’m not one who trusts easily. The number of friends whom I hang out with regularly can be counted on one hand. Generally, I avoid talking to people I don’t know outside of work, be it at social occasions or on the streets. It takes a while for me to warm to someone.
Trust. It’s embedded within the unconscious rituals of everyday life: walking to work, we trust passer-bys won’t stab us. We trust shopkeepers will give us the correct change at the cashier. We trust no chef spat into food we ordered. Trust. It’s about going forwards: we trust and travel to get on with our lives. And whether we trust others usually depends on where we’ve been and where we’re from.
Sometimes we hesitate to trust those we barely know because we’ve always kept “stranger danger” in mind. Better safe than sorry taking someone’s words and actions for what they seem. As Indonesian-born blogger Marcella Purnama writes on growing up in one of the numerous crime ridden Asian cities, she “wasn’t really taught to be nice to strangers. When someone asks for help, ignore them.” Trust, in this sense, is influenced by our upbringing.
When I went to primary school in Malaysia, my family lived in a high-security house. A massive wrought iron gate blocked our driveway’s entrance. A double-padlocked stainless steel grille gate blocked the front door of our house. ….sitting in the living room on a hot, humid weekend afternoon, the “ding” of an ice-cream pushcart filled the air. Mum and I hurried outside with some coins, and she flagged it down. I looked up at the tanned chap on the pushcart from behind the prison-like driveway gate, my hand feeling numb from clenching a cool icy pole packet. Instantly the ice-cream seller looked away, and my eyes darted to the ground. Never saw him again.
Time and time again cultural values play a part in whether we trust others, shaping the way we see the world. “Listen to others”, dad always told me. As a kid, I didn’t speak much and people stared at me – probably wondering why I was so quiet – and I shrank away, frightened. “The gweilos are only good at smooth talking,” dad also always said.
And so in this diverse world, sometimes stereotypical perceptions get in the way of trust. In Australia, there is a lack of interpersonal trust between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Sometimes the “Us and Them” dichotomy stands between us of different heritage, sometimes racism. Or perhaps some of us are afraid of offending another culture or getting judged for our culture; we’d much rather keep to ourselves.
At times whether we trust strangers depends on our personalities, not so much our background. We might simply be outgoing and others might gravitate towards that, and we in turn trust them. Or we might simply be shy and rather be alone.
Whether we trust also depends on context. We’re inclined to trust someone whom we met not too long ago when we feel they mean well. When we have things in common and click through mutual understanding. When one or the other is chatty, there’ll probably be light-hearted conversation to break the ice – little by little each of us opens up about ourselves and connect. In short, we trust when we’re comfortable around each other.
When we trust, it doesn’t mean we love. And when we love, it doesn’t mean we trust. When we trust or love, we surrender a part of ourselves into another’s hands. But love is about attraction and affection. Trust, about confidence. In many instances, we think before we trust – calculated trust. On learning to trust, Ernest Hemingway said:
“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”
…two years ago in Melbourne. Catching up with salsa dancer guy friend from another Asian mother over sushi dinner. We ate. Talked. Laughed. 9pm. “I’ll walk you home,” he said. My heart beat a little faster, alarm bells going off in my head. “No. I’m okay. Only fifteen minutes away.” Walking someone home: a fine line between being creepy and getting personal with someone. Who knows where he’ll drag me into the night? But we’ve known each other for more than a year. We talk often…and share the same values. I relented, and we shimmied up the slope to my place. Suddenly, we paused beside an alley. I gingerly looked down the darkened detour, and so did he….then we hastily walked on. Reached my place. Hugged goodbye as the winter wind enveloped us. Never saw him again.
When we trust someone new, we’re vulnerable. It’s scary. On one hand, you can’t really be sure if they have good intentions. On the other, going along with their word we might go on a new adventure, start a new chapter with them. That’s why we trust. We trust to learn. To build bridges, build relationships from a single moment of faith. And perhaps we trust to earn trust back in return being the social creatures that we all are.
But do we ever trust out of politeness, trust with a heavy heart because we feel that it’s rude not to? Maybe. Nevertheless, we swallow our pride when we choose to trust, even if it’s trusting someone for a momentary moment. Each of us is unique and who are we to judge each other, as author Rebecca Rossi writes:
“We need to look beyond ego, expectation and comparison. We are all individuals and that is what makes us so wonderful and special.”
…a few months ago in Melbourne. Birthday party at someone’s house and everyone there except me finds it normal wearing shoes indoors. 8.30pm and somehow I had to get home this frigid mid-winter’s night. Slowly, I got into the car belonging to fire twirler man friend whom I met earlier in the year. “Shall I drop you off where I picked you up?” Silence. More silence. The ride a few blocks from my house to the party wasn’t eventful or memorable, but he comes across…a nice guy. “How about…home?” I said. So home it was. The vehicle cruised down the highway into the darkness unknown, and neither of us said much. Ah, well. But the warm confines of the car felt very nice.
When we trust someone, we take our chances. It’s a leap of faith. And a moment where we don’t wonder “what if”.
Do you trust people you just met? Are you a people person?