Trust Is Not Earned

By Greg Baer M.D.

November 15, 2017

Personal Growth

I have written at length on the subject of trust being a gift, not a condition that is earned. You can find much of that by using the Master Index here.

A few more words on the subject here. Of course it is reasonable to look for a general sense of trustworthiness in people we anticipate trusting. Otherwise we would randomly trust people who are likely to lack the capacity to love and teach us. When we require people to prove that we can trust them, however, we create an impossible scenario.

If I require that you PROVE that I can trust you, I begin from a position of distrust, and I will tend to look for evidence confirming that I can’t trust you. Flaws are so easy to find.

Suppose that you are treading water in the middle of the ocean, and drowning is the likely next step. A life raft floats along, but you refuse to climb in because you require proof that the raft will float and keep you safe for an extended period, long enough—and through storms—to bring you to a larger vessel. You examine the thickness of the plastic and question its strength. The grasp line seems flimsy and coarse, you can’t see any paddles, and of course you don’t like the overall color. No, this is not a vessel you can trust, so you let it float by.

But another life raft never comes, and you drown.

Most of us are in a similar position. It’s not often we find people we can thoroughly trust, and if such a person appears, we tend to find reasons to withhold our trust. We naturally protect ourselves from more pain—which would be intolerable—thereby guaranteeing that we’ll never find a genuine solution to our discomfort.

At some point we have to trust if we want to find the love we need. We might pick the “wrong” person and not get the support we seek, but the alternative is to find no support at all, which is the worst outcome.

There’s another reason we need to rein in our need for proof of trustworthiness. We tend to associate trustworthiness with worth, and if we require that other people prove we can trust them, we also tend to require that they prove they are worthy of our love. Moreover, we tend to require that we prove our own worthiness to be loved by others, and in that muddled process of demanding, we love no one, we are loved by no one, and we drown alone, in the middle of the ocean.

We can avoid this dark outcome. We can learn to trust. We might stumble and fall, but then we trust again. And eventually we’ll know what it’s like to climb into a life raft.

We’re not looking for someone to save us, only strong enough to take us to larger rafts and to even larger vessels—to other trustworthy people and, as a best outcome, to the love of God—that are capable of carrying us to the stability of land. Such an outcome is worth the risks of offering our trust initially to someone as a gift, not to be earned.

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About the author 

Greg Baer, M.D.

I am the founder of The Real Love® Company, Inc, a non-profit organization. Following the sale of my successful ophthalmology practice I have dedicated the past 25 years to teaching people a remarkable process that replaces all of life's "crazy" with peace, confidence and meaning in various aspects of their personal lives, including parenting, marriages, the workplace and more.

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