Sunday, October 22, 2006

In Whom Do We Trust?



When I was young, I trusted pretty much nobody. I grew up and got over that -- and over myself. And then it began to seep into my consciousness over time that maybe that early impression of "trust no one completely but yourself" wasn't altogether so off the wall after all. One wouldn't want to carry that to extremes, but one does want to exercise a modicum of caution. That isn't said with the intention of advocating pessimism, fatalism, or paranoia. Simply use common sense and discretion. Discretion is, after all, the better part of valor.

Do I trust my government? Implicitly? Not on your life. Who besides a fanatical right-winger would? For anyone who reads the papers every now and then, tunes in to the nightly news occasionally, such blind trust seems naive to the max.


They [Americans] may be said not to perceive the mighty forests that surround them 'til they fall beneath the hatchet.

- Alexis de Tocqueville, "Democracy in America"


I haven't yet had an opportunity to crack open Bob Woodward's new book. I'm sure that when I do, my already minimal level of trust in government will plummet dramatically.

Do I trust my bank, my auto maker, my appliance manufacturer, my employer, my local police department, my doctor? Not blindly, no. Human beings are prone to making mistakes. And human beings will sometimes prevaricate and mislead and take actions calculated to serve their own best interests.

Do you automatically trust the people you meet in the everyday course of living? "Automatically" is the key word. Certainly, new acquaintances should be afforded a level of trust. Otherwise, we'd all be hardened and lonely. It wouldn't be prudent, however, to trust them with the keys to your home -- or your heart -- until they've demonstrably earned a level of complete trust. In other words, don't jump into anything with eyes half shut. Give it the time it deserves to be sure it's genuine and that the friendship, affection, and trust flow both ways.

Do you unquestioningly trust everyone you meet on the Internet? If you do, you might want to reexamine your rationale. There's no way to even count the vast number of people I've become acquainted with online. The rules -- surprise, surprise -- turn out to be a bit different from the rules that apply to real-world friendships.

I've learned -- am still learning -- by trial and error the folly of fully embracing everyone sight unseen, of believing everything they say, of -- God help me -- giving out personal information prematurely.

Of those numbers of people met online, some of the ones I absolutely adored hurt me the most. Some of the ones whom I perceived as "nice" turned out to be complete idiots, while a few who seemed to have a high degree of integrity and sensibility were, in reality, total fruitcakes. There have been a few who struck me as honest and, yes, trustworthy who proved to be two-faced game players; I still haven't figured out their agendas. Some who I never would have suspected turned out to be the most deliberate back-stabbers (and it pains me to say that some of the worst offenders are members of my own sex). Some, I have learned, will say one thing and do another, while telling someone else you said something you never even thought of.

Ironically, there are another couple of people whom I immediately rubbed the wrong way, and vice versa, degenerating (I'm ashamed to say) into public shouting matches. With cursing. They are now very good friends.

Online friendships -- and the concomitant levels of trust -- are a whole new frontier. In the main, the people I've encountered online are honest and forthright and I'm glad to have made their acquaintance. There are going to be a few bad apples in every basket, though. As a late American president once said, "Trust, but verify." It only makes sense; in the circumstances, it makes the only sense.

11 comments:

RexZeitgiest said...

Well said, well most of it. ;) You just never know about people online, thats why I never give out my real name or phone number or meet with people.....

What may seem perfectly safe and innocent may be anything but....I am 'hardened' to the reality that most people online are not what they claim to be and my trust is hard won......

You can never be sure about anyone and their motives but I think that one must try and maintain some level of trust, or the entire experience of online friendships is wasted......

Liz said...

I am probably too trusting. I assume people will be honest and I believe most are basically.

No, wait, as I'm writing, I'm thinking that's wrong: I don't think most are honest. Not any more. People are out for themselves on the whole.

"Trust but verify" sounds like good advice.

I wrote a comment on someone's blog yesterday where I said that I exaggerate to make a better story and I omit things that make me look bad. The first is a writer's trick/skill; the second is human nature.

I met, through a website, a lady with MS. She lived in Swindon, which is where my daughter lived when she got married. I decided to go and see her. My children, well-schooled in the dangers of the internet, said, 'What are you doing? She could be a mad man!'

'But I'm turning up at her house unexpectedly. If a mad man answers the door, I'll say I've got the wrong house!'

She is now a very good friend; things turned out well in this instance.

"Trust but verify."

Serena Joy said...

I see in hindsight this morning that that came out a bit more cynical than I had intended. For the most part, people are pretty honest and what you see is what you get. It's the few bad apples you have to be on the lookout for. I should emphasize that most people are trustworthy and do make great online friends. And, as in your case, Liz, good real-world friends as well. I've made a few real-world friendships that began as online acquaintanceships. It all boils down to, "Just be careful."

Zinnia said...

God, my parents, and my now husband are the only ones I trust.

Definitely can't trust those wiley chickens...

Serena Joy said...

Yes, Z, but now you know what to do about those chickens. When they get out of line, just threaten to babysit Son of Satan again. :)

kanrei said...

I will still trust people first. I have been burned maybe so many times that I am numb to it, but I will always treat each new person I meet as a good and honest person until they show me otherwise. I refuse to let the assholes I have encountered rule my judgement.

There is something inherently weird about knowing and trusting a group of people who never use their real names and who you never see, but words do convey much more than most of us give them credit for. The internet is the best and worst place ever for socializing and has given everyone a masked voice to expose their true inner self. Most of us are great people, some of us are not.

I trust without verifing, but I also never forget. I only give a person one chance to screw me.

Serena Joy said...

I think that's it in a nutshell, Kan -- you become numb to it. For the most part, I do trust all the people I network with online. Some, I have no idea what their real names are (and everybody knows my real name isn't Serena), and it makes no difference whatsoever. Alas, there have been a few bad apples. Thankfully, they are the vast minority.

I don't forget, either, and they get only once chance at screwing. If they get a second crack at me, it's nobody's fault but my own.

kanrei said...

I thought Serena was...
Kanrei is not mine either =P

Serena Joy said...

LOL. I'm not always serene, either. Bet you didn't know that. :)

RainbowDemon1952 said...

Wow, finally I got thru to post a comment!!! This has been an extreme undertaking getting this link to open for me. Seems I'm having problems accessing my own page as well a lot lately, too. Just wanted to add my two cents worth, Serena. I, too, tend to be too trusting of an individual, though to the best of my knowledge I've not yet been burnt online. Now, away from cyberspace, yeah, no doubt, I've been burnt over and over again so many times it tends to border on the insane. Whenever I hear the expression "trust me" it's like, "Okay, so when does the knife puncture the skin of my lower back!

Serena Joy said...

These Blogger problems have been a pain, huh? I'm glad you finally got a working link.

"Burnt" is a good word to describe the experience. And you know what they say -- "Once burned..."

I hear you about the knife puncture. When practically the first words out of somebody's mouth are "trust me," I run like hell these days.:)