The Fragile Fabric of Trust

trustworthy-dogTrust me!

Has anyone ever asked you to trust them?

It’s an empty request. Either you’ve earned someone’s trust or you haven’t. And if someone asks you to trust them, there’s probably a reason you shouldn’t.

Trust is a Quality You Earn

You build trust over time, by being trustworthy. Literally ‘worthy of trust.’

You create it by doing what you say you’re going to do; by behaving consistently and in a way that fits into a coherent framework.

You also build trust with small, consistent gestures.

  • By noticing and commenting on someone’s good work.
  • By being kind.
  • By greeting people in a friendly way.
  • And by talking through problems when they arise.

Collectively, those behaviors create a network of trust — an energy field — that under-girds a healthy community. When you are trustworthy and if you are fortunate to be part of a trusting community, life flows more smoothly.

But that fabric of trust, built over months and years can be unraveled quickly.

A Breach of Trust Erodes Community

I wonder what would happen if at St Mary’s Park where I exercise someone brandished a gun.

Would the gentle network of trust that has been built over years through small gestures and cheerful greetings be strong enough to unify the park-goers against a threatening intruder?

Or, would the trust that has been built over years vanish in a flash and be replaced by fear and self-protection?

Trust is the glue of social interaction. When trust is broken, whether in a family or a community or a country, we no longer function at our best.

But when trust is strong — when people feel that they are part of a constructive, functioning and trustworthy community — they may be able to withstand disruptions and attack.

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How Do You Build Trust in Your Community?

Identify three things you do that build trust among your friends and colleagues. And what are some behaviors that erode trust? What can you do to be more trust-worthy? And what would the consequences be?

What role does trust play in your life and your community? Please share your beliefs about trust in the comments below.

  • Andrea, you’ve put your finger on exactly what’s wrong with the so-called open carry movement. People who have done nothing to earn the trust of their neighbors are now “requesting” that their neighbors just assume they mean no harm when they show up in restaurants and toy stores brandishing assault weapons.

    As this image suggests, that’s not a trust that the open carry crowd is likely to extend to people of color; so what you have here, basically, is untrustworthiness:

    • Andrea Kihlstedt

      Thanks Jezra. Yes, the open gun carry issue was on my mind when I wrote this post. The image you liked to makes such a powerful and important statement. Thx for adding it to the mix.

  • Randy

    Great topic and fitting. The only way to build trust is thru consistency or being there at a critical stage in someone’s life. I am not the everyday friend – meaning you wont see or hear from me everyday (I am a loner at heart) –
    I am one that when someone is in need or in need of assistance I am there.
    I once told my pastor when we were speaking about me being around a bit more but him understanding my life situations. I told him – Pastor – I am like wolverine of the X-men – I may not be at xavier’s school on a regular basis and I may be off wandering on my own quest but whenever there is a need and when its time to step up and battle, you know I will be here.
    He laughed and said – anytime I needed you around or called on you – you always show up and you know I appreciate that a lot.

    Behaviors that erode trust is inconsistency. Once you start doing something other than what you normally do. I believe you have to be inconsistent on a consistent basis to fully erode it though.

    The one thing that I can do to build up more trust is to simply get a calender. I need to be a bit more organized. I am horrible keeping up with ppl and staying in touch. This blog is a great example. It comes out every wednesday and I normally get a facebook notification but this week I did not. I told you that I would read it every week. Had I created my own notification and used a calender like the rest of the world – I would have stayed on schedule.

    My response has been very long – but to answer the last question briefly is simply this. the consequences is to no longer be trusted – or even worse – to be viewed as unreliable – I never want to be viewed as unreliable!

  • Shanon Solava-Reid

    Trust, ah yes. I am interested to hear what you have to say about disfunctional groups that can’t identify the gestures that you list. I’m seeing a trend – lack of time from volunteer board members puts strain on other volunteers and/or staff and wam…trust goes out the door. I’ve seen this happen in 8 different orgs lately and all, but one, had someone modeling trust and who is trustworthy but it wasn’t and isn’t working.

    • Andrea Kihlstedt

      Hi Shanon. Thx for your comment. I’d be interested in knowing more about what happens…how does the trust break down. And might you find a way to engage the board members and staff in a direct and explicit conversation about trust and how to build it? I suspect there’s good fodder here for another post or two.