The other night, I was sitting in the living room with my family, watching prime time TV. It’s rerun season until after the holidays, so we were watching old sitcoms, episodes of Law and Order that we’d missed the first time around or didn’t remember having seen before, or, as we refer to it in my family, decorating porn on HGTV. I think we were snacking on leftover pumpkin pie.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this project I have been working on: trust-based leadership and living a trust-based life. I’ve been thinking a lot about trust and what it is and where it comes from. And, most importantly, how trust or the lack of trust impacts relationships, decisions, and morale. So on that night, I decided to count the number of times the word trust was used on prime time television.
I didn’t expect it to be a huge number. Of course, it is vital for Elliot Stabler and Olivia Benson, stars of Law and Order SVU, to trust each other – they are partners, police detectives working together to solve unspeakable crimes. But did they talk about trust? I thought not.
HGTV taught me that it is also vital that first time homebuyers trust their realtors. Who else will tell them about the mold beneath the tile in the bathroom or that the runoff from the neighbor’s compost pile will flood their patio every spring? And we all know how important it is for Rachel to trust Ross. After all, they are parenting baby Emma together, even if they were on a break.
After watching and munching for a while, I was surprised at the number of times the word trust was spoken. It was most often situation-specific. “Trust me, you won’t find a better deal,” from the guy selling used cars. “Why won’t you trust me?” shouted in anger and frustration by a teenager to his parents as they argued about the unsupervised party all of his friends were going to. “You can trust me,” spoken by the handsome, well-dressed man who stops to help the woman with the broken down car on the side of the highway on a rainy night. I’m sure you can guess how that turned out. On and on it went, the tick marks on my note pad multiplying with each new scene. In the end, I counted the word trust being used 26 times in a little more than three hours. That’s more than 8 times per hour, more than once every ten minutes. Is that how often we are supposed to think about trust?
There are people in our lives that we are supposed to trust, whether or not they have earned it. We are supposed to trust our doctors, our lawyers, the police, the people who care for our kids, the bus driver, the landscaper, our children, our partners, our bosses and co-workers. We are supposed to trust them, because they said we should. Or our friends said we should and we trust our friends. But what does it really mean to trust someone? How do we decide who to trust and who not to?
A lot of it is based on gut feelings. We are supposed to trust those in authority, those who are smarter, richer, and more attractive than we are. We are supposed to trust our doctors, the people who teach our children, and the guy who fixes our car. When my son was in the third grade, his teacher told them the story about lemmings throwing themselves over cliffs to instinctively control their population. Do you remember the Disney movie? I think we all saw it in grade school. But it isn’t true. My son, an avid animal lover and an equally avid reader, knew that it wasn’t true. He had read that, in fact, Disney hired people to toss the lemmings over the cliff to make their educational film for schoolchildren. But when he told this to the teacher, she didn’t believe him. Even when he showed her the magazine article in which a Disney official confessed to lemming murder in the name of science education, she still didn’t believe him. She didn’t trust him, even with documented proof, although he and the twenty-one other children in the class were supposed to trust her, unquestioningly. Go figure.
I trust the man who fixes my car. I am not stupid, but I don’t understand how cars work. I get in, fasten my seatbelt, and turn the key. Because I take relatively good care of my car – regular oil changes and all of the preventative maintenance recommended by the dealer – turning the key almost always makes the car start. When it doesn’t, I call AAA and trust the man that arrives to work his magic. If not, I turn to my car guy. I have no real reason to trust him. I don't understand what he is doing, even though he explains it to me and sometimes shows me oily chunks of metal that he says he has removed from my car, usually while wiping his oily hands on an oily rag from the pocket of his oily coveralls. The coveralls actually make me trust him more. He is in the well-recognized and well-respected uniform of the mechanic. He understands something that I am not interested in enough to learn about. He looks a little like Fonzie, or at least Fonzie’s older uncle, and who among us doesn’t trust the Fonz? And so I trust my gut instinct, and I trust him. And so far, I am lucky, and he hasn’t steered me wrong.
But back to my evening of mindless TV viewing. It quickly became clear to me that we bandy around the word trust, and its underlying concept, with little thought to the real meaning of the word. Our banks, our car insurance companies, the installers of quality discount carpet, the fried chicken place – they all implore us to trust them. And usually, unless we have been burned, we do. But that night, I really started to think about trust and what it really means – both to trust other people and to be worthy of the trust others place in me. Are other people really worthy of my trust? Am I worthy of theirs? How can they or I become more trust worthy and lead more trusting lives? Those are the real questions.
I am fortunate to live a life of abundance. I have a loving family, a circle of friends who care about me, work I love, a rich spiritual life and, more often than not, a cat asleep on my lap. I described myself recently as a “glass half full” kind of person. My life is full, full of love, laughter, and adventure. It is full of flowers, and even if my piggy bank is not as full as I would like it to be, I try to live each day fully. I am embarking on a journey that I will share – a journey to live a life that is full of trust. A trust-full life.