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Is trustworthiness necessary for trust?

Updated: Apr 16

Who or what do you trust? Are you yourself trustworthy? Where are the limits of your trustworthiness? How do you deal with people who don't trust you? Trust is one of the most overused words. We demand trust like change in a corner store, but we only give it very selectively and to a limited extent. And rightly so? If we had more trust, we would be less afraid, but life teaches us that trust is not always appropriate. So is control better than trust after all?


A few years ago, I would have said: "Trust is good ..... period!" without reservation. I have also always differentiated between "great trust" and "little trust", whereby great trust means trust without certainty and backing, little trust only if I can check and verify and thus have a relative certainty that my trust is justified and does not harbor any significant risk: little trust and therefore actually no trust. I have always advocated great trust, because that seemed to me to be the only valuable and correct trust.

In the meantime, life has taught me otherwise...... I trusted experts who failed without taking responsibility for it. I trusted people who betrayed me or left me hanging at the crucial moment. I trusted that good would always prevail in the end. I trusted the state to protect its citizens and do the best for them. I trusted the media to question the things that were the fourth power in the state and to publicize things that were wrong. Well, you learn and I have thought a lot about trust, including my trust and trustworthiness.

If Chat GPT had written the article and not me, it would now say that trust is the basis of every relationship, that trust is essential for successful collaboration and a fulfilling life, etc. I'm right! ChatBox is right! After all, trust is in almost every mission statement and broken trust is the cause of great disappointment and deep emotional pain. Trust is one of those metavalues that is universally valid and dear to everyone. Without trust, life would be full of control, skepticism, mistrust and suspicion. Would? - Look around you! - Life is full of control, skepticism, mistrust and suspicion! Perhaps you remember Walt Disney's Jungle Book: The snake Kaa hypnotizes Mowgli with the words: "Trust me"! She doesn't mean well by him..... Not everyone means well with us....

In this day and age, in which fakes are almost indistinguishable from reality, in which business models can make us immeasurably rich if only they are big enough, in which everything can be bought - including trust, influence and opinion-forming - we would do well to think very carefully about who or what we can trust, and at the same time consider how far our own trustworthiness goes. Only where there is deception can deception arise. We deceive ourselves above all by not looking critically enough, giving in to projects, abdicating responsibility and pursuing ideals. Deception is also our own overestimation or underestimation of ourselves. This is not trust, it is just stupid, albeit understandable and human.

We can distinguish between different types of trust:

1) Basic trust, i.e. the inner conviction that the universe means well with us and that everything will turn out well in the end, because otherwise it is not the end. There are people who carry this deep within them as an indestructible good. Such people often trust in a higher intelligence or power that has a protective

and regulating function and ensures that things turn out well. If you belong to this group, then you can only be envied, because this is an immense power with which you are inevitably very strong, successful, optimistic and a blessing for yourself and those around you.

2) Trust in people. You approach people openly and give them your trust in advance, so to speak, until they convince you that it was not appropriate. We all look for such people as partners, friends, superiors and caregivers! Trust is a gift, just like love. We don't have to prove ourselves "worthy" at first, we don't have to give anything back, but give forward, i.e. in this case also become a person who trusts. However, it is very important here that we do not overtax ourselves. Trust and love must not and cannot be demanded and so it is also possible that we get nothing in return. Therefore, only love and trust to the extent that we can survive and continue to exist even in the event of a "super loss" - abused trust and betrayed love - if that is important to us. When we give someone a Christmas present, we don't expect anything in return, we simply give to make the other person happy. We don't give more than we can handle and that's exactly how it should be with trust and love. Of course, we can give more if we get a lot in return, but we shouldn't expect it.

3) Trust in organizations and things. Unreflected trust is probably not the way to go here. Check what these things and organizations were created for. Try to find out what their agenda and/or purpose is. Carefully analyze whether what is attributed to the product or organization, or what it claims about itself, is consistently implemented and becomes visible in reality over time. This can easily change if the leadership, ownership and/or strategy changes. Organizations sometimes succumb to the temptation to look after themselves first and foremost, and to bring benefits second, rather than the other way around. Incidentally, this can also apply to individuals... If we blindly trust such entities, disappointment often follows.

4) Trust in the future. This is a very central form of trust: difficult, but absolutely essential. No one can predict the future, but we can consciously shape it; not completely, but decisively, despite our limited possibilities. We can learn to manifest what we want and what we need, because the future itself has unlimited potential. Theoretically, anything is possible! If we face our future with openness and trust, then we are sure to create more of what is important to us than if we fearfully protect ourselves from possible risks and impossibilities. You have probably heard the expression "self-fulfil-ling prophecy": what happens in our lives and what we perceive is a question of the focus we adopt. Most of the things that scare us won't happen anyway. We will be able to deal with what happens to us - much of which is unpredictable - because we have the skills to do so, and if we really need help, it will be available.

5) Trust in ourselves. Yes, who is supposed to trust us if we don't trust ourselves? Is our trustworthiness so small that it doesn't even reach beyond our scalp? Yes, we have limits and yes, our trustworthiness is also finite and yes, unfortunately we are not omnipotent, but we can trust ourselves a little, because we only grow at the limits, not in the comfort zone. In order to venture into this growth zone, however, we need a lot of confidence in our abilities, in our character and sometimes also in the context. I agree with Mary Lou Retton:

"Optimism is a happiness magnet. If you stay positive, you attract good things and good people".

Not all confidence is the same. Our intelligence and intuition help us to decide when, where and how much is appropriate, sensible and good. Of course, it is nicer and better to look at the world and people like a child full of trust, but we probably live longer and better with a pinch of skepticism and a large dose of caution. Perhaps trust is like many things: Keeping a sense of proportion and weighing up side effects in order to prevent damage and find the optimum.

Christina Kuenzle

Executive coach and Symbolon specialist, Zurich

Image credit: Shutterstock

This article was published in October 2023 in the business magazine Ladies Drive.


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