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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss


Trust is a slippery thing. Some of us go through life never trusting anyone, convinced that nothing good can come from putting oneself in a position to be hurt or harmed by another. Often these poor souls have a reason to believe as they do, a deep wound that will never heal. Others give their trust away easily, and sometimes too much so. They trust even when they have every good reason to feel otherwise and sometimes, they trust the very last people they should.

Why are we like this, what governs our sense of trust? We know that trust is essential to every relationship, personal or professional. Violations of trust are generally deal breakers—the grounds for separating, and typically rueful or bitter recrimination. We tend to think of trust as something we invest in other people but surprisingly, we trust abstract things as well. We trust in brands, for example, as every good marketer knows. Think not, then you’ve never witnessed a conversation between a Hellman’s versus Duke’s Mayonnaise household or a Chevy versus Ford Truck smackdown. How is it possible that the same emotion we associate with loyalty to a person can be endowed upon a condiment or a vehicle?

The answer, at least in part, lies in us. The association we feel for people and things which make us feel good or wanted, safe, loved, and respected has a good deal to do with why we trust someone or something initially. Subsequent experience either reinforces those feelings and creates an expectation of future benefits or, in the event our trust is violated, leads to our remorse. But how then do we explain why some people whose trust has been broken go on trusting? And even more difficult to understand, why do some people continue to trust people they once loved or lauded when it is revealed that those they venerated have lied, cheated, or disrespected them?

I said earlier that the answer lies in us. When we form our initial bond with someone or something we invest ourselves emotionally. That is, we build up a reserve of goodwill, of positive feelings we associate with the object of our trust. Like bad gamblers, we don’t know when to walk away from the table. We willingly deceive ourselves, discount the offenses to our trust, mitigate the events leading up to the violation telling ourselves it was a fluke, a mistake, something that can be explained away, because we want and need our fix of good feelings. We are reluctant to give up on our investment.

Let’s be honest, we just don’t want to admit we were wrong. So, we double down and pretend to ourselves that everything is going to be ok. We can go on this way for years in some cases—maybe we never admit that we were in error or perhaps we find an extenuating circumstance that explains away our gullibility or converts our self-deception into righteous indignation. Whatever the outcome, the hardest thing to do is admit to ourselves, much less others, that we placed our trust undeservedly.

But what happens when the person we trust is someone we elected, perhaps campaigned for, attended rallies in honor of, and told the world in no uncertain terms was our gal or guy? What happens when they fail to do what they said or worse, did the exact opposite? Such circumstances incite the most intractable of responses. History shows us that it is nearly impossible for any of us to change our view, to admit that we were mistaken, deceived, or simply trusted to easily and too soon. Only massive condemnation has any chance of swaying us. The positive feelings we associate with being a loyal and trusting follower have us hooked. Giving them up leaves us bereft. Why, because it’s personal. In most cases, we rationalize that whatever trust was violated, we were not hurt by it—perhaps others were but not us. But when we must admit that we are hurt, or we were wrong the pain we feel and internalize is palpable, even if it is only our judgement that was in error.

So, as the recent midterm elections should have taught us doubling down, setting ourselves up for more of the same is irrational but by no means rare. In Texas, a state known for its partisan view of the world, one party has been in power for over 27 years. Their campaign in the recent election was based on fixing what’s broken in their state. It appears 27 years was insufficient time so the voters gave them four more. Who says you can’t fool all the people.

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