The Paradox of Trust

Paul Heagen Uncategorized Leave a Comment

Nestle a whole (uncooked!) egg in your hand lengthwise. Now squeeze it from both pointy ends. Again. If you did it right, it should still be there intact.

Now turn it so you are squeezing it across its width.
Okay, no, don’t squeeze it; you don’t have to know the nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty to know what’s next.

Same egg. Same pressure. The only difference is that force was applied to its designed axis of strength versus its inherent axis of weakness. The variable was the relationship, the position of the egg.

There is something else we hold in our hands that suffers from or reveals this same perplexing paradox of vulnerability and durability:


Trust flirts with our attempts to assign it substance. It is gossamer silk in the wind – hard to fully grasp, sometimes lacking a definitive shape or form, but also seemingly so subject to influences beyond our control. You can have the same conversation with someone with the same words and come away renewed or rent depending upon the atmosphere of trust or distrust that surrounded it. Sometimes you walk away not full understanding why.

Perhaps as mysterious as love, we know when trust is there, even though we are least aware of its genesis or arrival. We can strive (or calculate) to earn it, but there are no guarantees of a fair exchange. Like the eggshell, when the relationship turns, it exposes a point of shear that leaves us scraping up the shattered remnants and despairing of ever being able to reassemble it to its natural shape. Stubborn loyalty is a fierce friend; so, too, is betrayal a haunting enemy.

I’m not convinced there is a simple checklist on how to build trust. It is far too individual, too situational to permit a formulaic approach.

Getting to a point of trust

What its construction invites, though, is a gathering of qualities that are too often kicked aside in our hasty world: patience, awareness, vulnerability, genuine dialogue, and demonstration that we are as committed to helping someone achieve their goals as well as our own.

People are unlikely to trust us if they suspect we distrust them. Someone has to make the move, and take the risk in doing so. Among good people, trust begets trust. It is rarely a cautiously negotiated balance. Courtrooms are filled with the most carefully crafted contracts or partner agreements between two people who lost trust in each other.

I think at a base human level we want to trust people; at times we have to (if we only trust people we know are trustworthy, we may not fully embrace the peril that is trust). The mistake is fooling ourselves that trust is there when the evidence appeals against that. What we can be is conscious about it, thoughtful about it, honest about our role in it. When we are consistent in the behaviors and qualities that built trust, when both parties put trust on the table as the shared currency of the relationship, we have a shot at making it work. We turn our strengths to the effort, our strengths bear the weight. It is when we keep our doubts or aspirations or even interests in the shadows, that the dance becomes more tentative; it is when we get “sideways” we fear others might take advantage of our weakness, and the whole construct collapses.

Trust is not reckless, yet neither is it safe. It is not so much a calculation as it is just that human instinct that tells us there are strengths that can bear the weight, and weaknesses that should never be asked to do the same. They come in the same package, the same eggshell. This strangely durable and vulnerable vessel that is measured not just on its own but as much by how it is held.

(Photo credit: DA Wagner)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

two × four =