Virtue of the Month: Trust

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"Virtue of the Month Series" by Linda Kracht (CatholicMom.com)

Via Pixabay (2013), CC0 Public Domain. Text added in Picmonkey.

TRUST

“Trust is a fundamental basis of morality. ”

Since first published by CatholicMom.com, the Virtue of the Month column has discussed a variety of virtues and opposing vices. A virtue is readily identified as the good actor while an opposing vice is the bad one. Virtue is always a virtue; vice is always a vice. Right?

Trust and Trustworthiness are virtues and Distrust and Untrustworthiness are opposing vices; however, there are certain situations and circumstances that seem to warrant distrust and untrustworthiness, in my opinion. For example, some adults (young and old) are all too easily duped or deceived by people you or I would naturally suspect. Yet these adults are often described as being very trusting individuals. What about the person who refuses to report an acquaintance’s criminal activity? Perhaps the criminal would feel that the silent friend is very trustworthy whereas you or I would call it something else. However, being on guard against con artists and revealing criminal activities would always be good choices rather than bad ones.

The problem seems to be a matter of semantics rather than concluding that sometimes virtues morph into vice or that vice can become a virtue. Being easily duped is best described as gullibility, immaturity, or callowness rather than trust. Similarly, false loyalty or faulty loyalty — rather than trustworthiness — best describes the friend who keeps secret the crimes of his criminal friends. We should be able to state that a virtue is always a virtue and a vice is always a vice.

Trust is “not merely a feeling; but, it is a feeling that necessarily flows into doing something good for one another.” (adapted from Rabbi David Wolpe’s definition of love. Wolpe was named among the 50 most influential Jews in the world by the Jerusalem Post. Feb. 16, 2016. http://time.com/4225777/meaning-of-love/).

Like love, trust naturally brings goods and good things to other people. Let’s discuss them. The goods and good things just mentioned are intrinsic and extrinsic goods. They arrive in the same measure that we trust one another. Trust makes it possible to want to help other people. Trust is the virtue that makes cooperation possible while also making cooperation easier and simpler. Ultimately, trust deepens our respect, compassion and empathy for others. It facilitates healthy, mutual dependencies among those we trust. Trust promotes friendships. It develops healthy work environments. Trust promotes social health and wellbeing. Trust encourages neighbors to help each other; thereby making the neighborhood an enjoyable place to live.

Trust is the cement that bonds people together. Trust enables us to grow in our understanding about other people and the world they live in. Trust helps us feel secure about ourselves. Trust helps the people we trust to feel good about themselves. Trust creates natural, healthy autonomies and dependencies within societies and families. Trust fosters moral maturity and responsibility toward others. Trust is a necessary ingredient for moral decision making and corresponding action. Trust helps us feel appreciated, understood, and loved by others. Trust opens us up to each other while rendering us open and vulnerable; yet, we don’t worry about vulnerability when interacting with those we trust.  Trust is the necessary virtue for all healthy interpersonal relationships; but especially between spouses; parents and their children; and God and his children.

These positive effects reveal why trust is indeed more than a feeling — it is a feeling that necessarily flows into doing something good for one another. Trust is inextricably linked to our feelings and emotions. Trust develops other companion virtues including hope and optimism. Trust facilitates the giving and receiving of the gift of “assured reliance on someone’s character, ability, and strengths,” according to Merriam Webster. In other words, trust is basically an implicit promise to honor, to be loyal to, and to be respectful of another person. It is fundamental to the marriage vows even if the promise to trust and to be trustworthy is not expressly stated. (Many of the previous ideas are adapted from the following source:  https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/trust/)

Virtuous behavior naturally spawns other virtuous acts. Trust supports and is supportive of many different, yet similar, companion, human virtues including loyalty, respect, hope, optimism, trustworthiness, love, justice, cooperation, and compassion for others. Eons ago, Sirach taught: “If you choose, you can keep the commandments; loyalty is doing the will of God. Set before you are fire and water; to whatever you choose, stretch out your hand. Before everyone are life and death, whichever they choose will be given them.” [Sirach 15: 15-17] Consider how this applies to all virtue and specifically trust.

When trust is absent, opposing vices easily fill its void, including betrayal, unhealthy doubt, pessimism, skepticism, disloyalty, disrespect, hatred, injustice, and deceit. Recent public protests and demonstrations showcase many of these vices which tear down trust necessary for healthy, social coexistence. The protests show that our culture suffers from an underlying distrust of persons, ideas, and even agencies including the Church and other institutions. Societies will struggle and even fall when citizens grow excessively wary of each other’s words, actions and motives. Friendships fall apart when distrust replaces trust. Marriages fail when deceitfulness overtakes trustworthiness. One’s overall well-being is sometimes a measure of our personal treasure trove of virtues vs vice; the same can be said of entire cultures.

So, how do we put on trust? Trust is both learned and earned! As we mature, we learn to trust others through verification. We begin with those closest to us. Consider babies. At birth, babies are naturally trusting because they have yet to experience disappointment or betrayal. Around seven months of age, babies begin to express stranger fear/anxiety because they finally realize that everyone is not necessarily mother, father or siblings, although they may have developed a preference for certain individuals within their immediate family. This new awareness protects babies, as they are not yet able to verify the trustworthiness of strangers. Their fear of strangers gradually diminishes as baby observes his parents interact with friendly ‘strangers.’ Even toddlers and preschoolers remain wary of strangers longer than we realize, and for good reason. Gradually, children give and receive conditional trust because of emerging verification skills.

How do we verify the trustworthiness of others? The verification processes involve studying a person of interest, observing him while interacting with others, listening to his ideas and thoughts, discussing topics with him, questioning his ideas, receiving input from others about him, getting to know him personally, and trying to understand his motives, beliefs and worldview. It is next to impossible to verify someone’s motives — even though motives really tell us who the real person is. All of us ought to reveal our motives so others don’t have to guess them — assuming we understand them ourselves. When a person’s motives remain a mystery, we are forced to draw conclusions about his/her trustworthiness based on the other verification systems listed above; our final conclusion about their trustworthiness may be off the mark when jumping to conclusions about their motives. Trust eventually loses most of its conditionality when determining that someone is trustworthy; we then form the belief that the person of interest is truthful, sincere, and trustworthy — or not.

Trust is shattered through the act of betrayal of someone’s trust. We automatically link betrayal to cheating on a spouse, but it is has a broader context. Feeling betrayed may happen for the following reasons and situations, including the discovery of a hidden addiction of a loved one, friend or coworker. Persons who feel used by someone for any reason — financial, social, or others — will often feel betrayed by the person they trusted. Getting ripped off financially by a trusted person is betrayal. Constant lying to someone betrays trust. Talking or gossiping about others can make the person being talked about feel betrayed. Abandonment – whatever the age or relationship can feel like betrayal. Revealing someone’s deepest secret without permission is a form of betrayal. Giving up on a friendship or marriage for little or no reason feels like betrayal. Discovery that a loved one has committed a serious crime feels like betrayal. Turning friends or family members against each other during arguments, court cases, or work disputes, can feel like betrayal.

The pain felt by betrayal depends on the degree of trust placed on the betrayer. It also depends on the seriousness of the offense to the person who has been betrayed. Betrayal is one of the deepest hurts ever felt because it lays bare a person’s vulnerability and exposes it to the world as if it were their fault for trusting someone. Betrayal takes advantage of a person’s good will and optimistic hopes. It forces us to erase our belief system about someone. (https://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2014/04/12/dealing-with-betrayal/ and http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/23/worse-than-cheating_n_6036228.html)

Unconditional trust has no reason to monitor, track, question, or constrict the actions of someone we trust. However, after betrayal, that is exactly what we are tempted to do to prevent future episodes of betrayal and to diminish the hurt that we feel. These self-preservation efforts trend us toward becoming invulnerable rather than open to newfound trust. Broken trust doesn’t just lie dormant; it remains lost. Consequently, a betrayed person is also in danger of succumbing to vice that pretends to heal brokenness including acting out with anger, disrespect, hatred, injustice, vengeance, retaliating against the perpetrator, and other vice. Perhaps William Congreve himself betrayed a woman and therefore knew full well her fury when writing:“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” Unfortunately, the betrayer often ends up in a better spot — emotionally,  psychologically, and socially —  than the person he/she betrayed.

Attempting to control someone’s will, actions or life does not heal anyone; neither does it remove distrust. Betrayal undermines one’s sense of confidence and reality about self. How does healing take place? It never helps to be told: just get over it or its time to move on. The emotions and feelings involved after a betrayal are very real and they run too deep to ignore, stuff inside or bat away without suffering serious consequences to social, psychological, physical, spiritual, or mental well-being.

The hurt caused by the betrayal becomes the opportunity to become even more merciful, forgiving, strong, and Christ-like through prayer, appropriate personal action, and decision making. It helps to seek expert advice so that the path forward is highly influenced by helpful directions, guidance, and oversight. This helps to ensure that he/she remains appropriately open and vulnerable, a just forgiver, and has new opportunities for personal growth.

How does disappointment in someone compare with betrayal? The difference between the two are hugely different. Disappointment does not feel as crushing as the feelings caused by betrayal. If you wondered about the difference, you probably haven’t been betrayed; perhaps you have merely felt disappointed in someone. Feeling disappointed in someone proves two things: the trust we had in that person was very conditional — and probably for very just cause; and the act that disappointed us was probably not that serious. Let me give a few examples. Most parents realize their children are not perfect; therefore, they expect to be disappointed occasionally by their child’s choices, decisions and lack of maturity. Of course, committed parents are disappointed to learn that their child was unruly in the classroom, disrespected a teacher, was mean to another child, lied about something, was disobedient, cheated on an exam, or other misbehavior. Yet we expect some of these things to happen as our children experience new people, places and things.

Children have yet to mature, so they do stupid things, make immature decisions, and say inappropriate words. They will never be perfect; neither will we. The feelings of disappointment range from low to high depending on the expectations of the parents, whether the act was new or repeat, and the degree of the wrongdoing. Like betrayal, disappointment provides us with the opportunity to teach, train, and supervise our children so they learn from their mistakes and our disappointments. Disappointment provides parents the opportunity to help their child become a better version of himself. (Matthew Kelly) So parents set consequences, set higher expectations about future results, and monitor their children’s compliance.

During a Fortifying Families of Faith workshop for parents, a psychologist stated that it’s important to remind our children that we trust them but we don’t trust their judgement  — yet. This statement seems to miss the truth about trust. Unconditional trust involves trusting someone’s character, judgement, choices, decisions, etc. Parents lack trust in their child because their whole personhood is immature! The way teens see others, ask questions, calculate situations, interpret, judge, and verify people, places and things is immature. We don’t just call into question their ability to judge; parents ought to call their whole verification processes into question. Parents’ trust of their children should remain highly conditional until they demonstrate mature behavior consistently. Until then, parents will be occasionally disappointed by our teens and adolescents and even college age children.

Whom do we trust fully and unconditionally? Your answer should focus on Three Persons – God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Everyone else (except Mary) was born under the yoke of original sin and susceptible to the influence of concupiscence. None of us is completely and unconditionally trustworthy in all situations and circumstances. But we can work on reversing the effects of that condition, can’t we? Not one of us will ever have to verify the trust of the three Divine Persons. They will not disappoint or betray us — ever. Even though we betray God through personal sin, He does not turn on us. God’s response to our betrayals — past, present and future —  was His willingness to sacrifice His only son – Jesus. And Jesus’ yes was his response to His Father. Similar to human betrayals, Jesus’ sacrifice becomes our opportunity to receive God’s perfect love and grace.

How do we learn to trust God? Trust begins naturally and gradually opens us up to pondering supernatural trust. We begin to better understand God’s Supernatural Trust by understanding the great blessings provided to us by natural trust. We begin to understand supernatural trust by meditation on the Crucifixion and Death of Jesus. He teaches us what betrayal feels like and how to respond.

Only God is perfectly Trustworthy; only He is full of Truth, Integrity, Purity of Motive, Optimism, and authentic Love. God will never betray us; we can depend on that. That is what drives our faith, hope and charity. God’s trust is the standard to use when learning and earning fellow human’s trust. God’s Trust created the world; it continues to support Creation despite the original betrayal by Adam and Eve; the next betrayal by God’s beloved Jewish people, and our ongoing betrayal of God because of sin. He continues to love and forgive and show mercy — unconditionally — if we seek it. Let this be our example to live by.

Questions to ponder:

  1. Pray for trust.
  2. Have you ever been betrayed? What was your response? Have you forgiven them? Have you been able to re-learn how to trust that person? Why or why not?
  3. Have you ever betrayed someone? What were the consequences and effects on you and the person you betrayed? Have you sought forgiveness and mercy from them?
  4. What does trust mean to you?
  5. Did you disagree with anything in this article? What was it?
  6. Did you ever consider other types of betrayals before — other than within marriage?
  7. Have you been disappointed in your children or spouse or siblings? Explain how that different from feelings of betrayal.
  8. List the opportunities provided by the betrayals and disappointments. Thank God for these opportunities.
  9. How does Sirach 15:15-17 pertain to any discussion about trust?

Copyright 2017 Linda Kracht

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About Author

Linda Kracht is wife to David, mother to seven very special children and grandmother to 17 little ones [presently]. Linda enjoys speaking and writing and has developed field guides for families in English and Spanish about parenting, marriage, faith, morals, and family life. Kracht founded Fortifying Families of Faith [2008] to help parents honor their role as primary teacher of their children in matters that matter.

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