Good Trusting or Bad Trusting?

By: hawkgrrrl
April 29, 2014

I send you as sheep among wolves. Or in this case a lone wolf among sheep.

Is being trusting a virtue or evidence of lack of discernment?  Are Mormons more gullible (as is often asserted or at least implied) than the average person?

If being trusting & accommodating and being suspicious & contrary exist on a continuum, we usually judge the virtue of that approach based on the outcome.  The problem is that we only judge the most noticeable outcome:  being conned.  We can’t determine that someone was NOT conned because we don’t know what opportunities to be fooled were presented, just as we can’t know if someone avoided being in a car accident by taking a different route home.  Other outcomes are less easily noticed, on both the positive and negative side. For example, being suspicious not only prevents us from being deceived, but it also causes us to avoid social benefits that a more trusting person may reap such as higher levels of cooperation, friendship, peer support, exploring other alternatives, etc.  It’s difficult to assess covert positives, but easy to assess overt negatives.  Consider the following:

  • Trusting person is conned = noticeable
  • Trusting person reaps positive benefits = not easily noticed
  • Suspicious person avoids being conned = can’t be noticed
  • Suspicious person avoids positive benefits = not easily noticed

Let’s both conspire to be sure Darcy gets what he wants.

In the well-loved novel Pride & Prejudice, long-time friends Darcy and Bingley bicker about this very topic.  Charles Bingley is a very trusting, affable person, quick to believe the best of others and to deprecate himself and question his own opinions.  Fitzwilliam Darcy is his opposite:  wary of strangers, taking a while to warm up to new acquaintances, very self-confident, and distrustful of others’ motives.  Darcy berates Bingley for not knowing his own mind and bending too easily to the will of others:

“if, as you were mounting your horse, a friend were to say, ‘Bingley, you had better stay till next week,’ you would probably do it, you would probably not go–and at another word, might stay a month.”

Bingley becomes embarrassed, aware that Darcy’s portrait of him is unflattering and has a core of truth to it; he does readily yield to others’ opinions and wishes.  Elizabeth Bennett comes to Bingley’s defense, but Bingley is not placated, feeling his friend’s criticism acutely, even though Darcy is often the beneficiary of his friend’s pliable nature.  The argument is summed up crisply by Elizabeth’s exchange with Darcy:

[Elizabeth:] “To yield readily–easily to the persuasion of a friend is no merit with you.”

[Darcy:]  “To yield without conviction is no compliment to the understanding of either.”

Darcy’s summation indicates that while he knows Bingley often does what Darcy wants, because he does it based on feeling and not logic, his loyalty is of less value.  Elizabeth’s view is that Bingley is acting in a trusting manner based on experience and mutual social benefit rather than examining options coldly without regard to emotion and human relationships.

I believe . . . Mormons are gullible. Because Hollywood and Broadway tells me so.

Which view is right?  As the story reveals, both have disastrous consequences:  Bingley nearly loses all his own happiness until he learns to (very tentatively) stand up for what he wants, and Darcy overlooks the feelings of others so much that he nearly ruins his own chance for happiness, delivering an insulting marriage proposal, comically and exhaustively listing all the reasons against the union before asking her to accept him.  Even Elizabeth doesn’t escape unscathed; she is easily fooled by the con man George Wickham because he is handsome when she would find him as pathetic and amusing as her father does if it weren’t for his flattery and flirtation.  Everyone in the story is easily deceived, each in his or her own way.

In Matthew 10:16 Jesus warned his followers:

“16 ¶Behold, I send you forth as asheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore bwise as serpents, and charmless as doves.

First of all, I’m not sure doves are truly harmless (rats with wings, more like) or that serpents are truly wise (maybe that wily one in Jungle Book who disturbingly tries to seduce Mowgli into his deadly embrace), but the point of this scripture is that we should not be too trusting.  We are sheep: docile, innocent, short-sighted, but we are surrounded by predators who would eat us alive.

Just where is the sweet spot between gullible and cynical?  And which would you rather be seen as:  too trusting or not trusting enough?  Being trusting is related to:  faith, humility, meekness, innocence, passivity.  Being skeptical is related to:  experience, doubt, taking control and pride.  It seems that we prize the qualities of being trusting, and yet that sets us up to be deceived.  The non-religious would say “that’s the point.  Religion wants gullible followers.”  But I think Elizabeth Bennett is onto something:  trusting people have a social advantage over the aloof, skeptical ones.  By avoiding being deceived, you also avoid trusting those who are truly trustworthy.


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11 Responses to Good Trusting or Bad Trusting?

  1. SilverRain on April 29, 2014 at 5:30 AM

    I like your post. Being overly trusting is partially what kept me in a bad marriage. I’ve fought my distrustful inclinations my whole life, and the one time I managed to trust, I was horribly betrayed.

    For me, the solution is partially the Atonement. Trusting anyways despite knowing I will be hurt. Knowing I will also be healed. Vulnerability is connection. I’m not good at vulnerability, and therefore have very little connection to people. Pain is not always evil.

    Also, although I naturally distrust with my heart, I choose to act according to trust. I give the benefit of the doubt until I can’t any more. Then, at least, when someone fails to live up to my hopes for them, at least it isn’t because of me. I would have given them every chance to choose right. In the end, they have only themselves to blame.

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  2. handlewithcare on April 29, 2014 at 8:15 AM

    Elizabeth and Darcy learnt a lot from their experience of each other, sufficient to show them both that they were capable of improvement. So, I’m not sure it has to be either/or.
    I can tell you that when I have not trusted my instincts, bad things have happened. So, I say trust your instincts. Perhaps the characters Austen depicts here are victims of over education and under experience-they didn’t get out much in an authentic way, it was all about playing the social game, usually mediated by their elders.
    I’ve managed to teach my younger kids to trust their instincts, but my elder ones over-ride their instincts with what they feel they should or should not do. For me, and actually for them, that never works out well. If it doesn’t feel right, then you probably shouldn’t be doing it.
    I believe that our safety is no less and no more important than anyone else’s. And Silver, I think that includes you. Love where your love is cherished.

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  3. Jeff Spector on April 29, 2014 at 8:53 AM

    “Trust, but verify” One of the quotes from Ronald Reagan that I like. It is a virtue to be trusting, but not to he point of being stupid about it. This is one of the reasons why I seldom do business with Church members. And I have been disappointed in the past when I have. Good post.

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  4. Howard on April 29, 2014 at 12:02 PM

    LDS indoctrination teaches and reenforces Pollyanna denial – virtuous, lovely, of good report or praiseworthy and by elevating faith promoting above truth or fact. Hypocrisy is learned by example and adaptation, the Pollyanna ideals and Pharisaical bright line rules greatly exceeding most human’s ability or desire to live so the culture by default encourages and reenforces faking it by acting faithful and righteous at least on Sunday even if you’re not and by finding your testimony by bearing that you “know” anything with the church’s trade mark is “true”. Everyone knows Lying for the Lord isn’t really lying and that tends to morph into other minor escalating to greater untruths as well. Us vs. them it’s just the thin blue line of us Mormons against the evil world! Introspective examination isn’t encouraged. As a result many if not most members do not honestly know themselves or others or what truth is and are therefore quite inauthentic. Which sums up why I agree with Jeff, on average doing business with members is more disappointing than with nonmembers. Inauthentic people have a difficult time identifying authenticity in others so they tend to misjudge and mistrust.

    An aware member once summed this up by warning me regarding my return to the church by saying an LDS “Bishop can steal your socks without touching your shoes!”. Since them I’ve met a couple of Stake Presidents who could too!

    But it continues from there. “Follow the prophet” is reenforced much more than follow the spirit, you can trust him (the prophet), he won’t lead you astray! You can? He won’t? If you want to continue to believe that just close your eyes cover your ears and hum when blacks and the priesthood comes up. The result can easily be a member who doesn’t do much thinking for himself and only only trusts church leadership which would be fine if they really were receiving God’s detailed download on a daily basis but that’s just folklore.

    In short the church and often it’s members have literally become psychologically ill in the name of following the brethren Pharisaical rules and instead of the spirit.

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  5. Douglas on April 29, 2014 at 12:07 PM

    #3 – Jeff, you raise a good point. When a fellow LDS member bringeth forth a business “proposal” (typically “(Sc)Amway, or Noni, etc…), clasp thy purse tightly and runneth like (heck)!!!”

    I make it a rule to trust people about as far as I can throw them until experience proves them trustworthy. If that makes me cyncial, so be it. Twice married and divorced has taught me all too well to watch my back.

    Even in the Sci-Fi realm we find that entities that are supposedly committed to honesty and honor find it necessary to resort to deception. Hence why Spock (and he’s only HALF a ‘Green-blooded, pointy-eared hobgoblin”!) solemnly declares that as a Vulcan he cannot lie (but he can cynically divert the attention of the lady Romulan Commander by keeping her in the throes of ectasy whilst the disgused Captain Kirk steals the cloaking device), never mind that a century earlier another famous StarFleet officer, Captain Archer, declares that Vulcans can “lie with the best”. And never mind Princess Leia, borrowing the art of subterfuge from her biological mother, attempts to outwit the oily Gov. Tarkin to buy time for her homeworld. What did anyone expect the pluck princess to do, just give up the Rebel base on Yavin IV (never mind that when Han congratulates himself for their getaway that Leia believes they’re being tracked and therefore is doing just THAT! Amateurs…)

    Sheesh, if I made it a point to be sucrupulosy candid about everything, I’d be sleeping under a bridge and wearing but a barrel in the wake of yet another divorce…

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  6. Geoff - Aus on April 29, 2014 at 5:35 PM

    Seems to me there is a relationship between an obedience culture, which the church has promoted for 30 years or so and trusting.

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  7. Nate on April 29, 2014 at 8:51 PM

    Trust is a true principle. But trust in God, and in ourselves. Trust in others is good, if it means to be generous of spirit, and to give the benefit of the doubt. But trust in others can also be trusting in the arm of the flesh rather than the voice of Hos within us, which may warn us, or invite us to a higher path.

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  8. el oso on April 29, 2014 at 9:43 PM

    Based upon my business experience, trust seems to be one of the pillars of US (and most other 1st world countries) economic prosperity versus many other countries and cultures. Bribery or extensive gifting is practiced many places to facilitate the relationship that is much easier to build in the US.
    Hawk, you have more experience than I do, is this the same in your experience?

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  9. hawkgrrrl on April 29, 2014 at 10:47 PM

    Nate: I didn’t realize you had the voice of Hos inside of you. Is it like an inner brothel? You should really get that checked out. ;)

    el oso: It’s an interesting contrast. In Asian countries, relationships trump nearly everything and last for much longer than in the US and more western countries. In my experience, Americans and other westerners partner so long as there is mutual benefit, but in Asian countries, the relationship comes before mutual benefit even and lasts longer than mutual benefit. It’s very difficult to break into those relationships as a westerner unless you are willing to put in decades of not talking business yet (until they trust you). But when they trust you, the ties are incredibly strong. Working for a western company over there was a mix of western / multi-national approach and Asian. In some countries, like Japan, it is very difficult for a western company to break in.

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  10. ji on April 30, 2014 at 4:26 AM

    And yet, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is more important than anything else, and everything else put together. Faith. Trust. Hope. There is tremendous power in faith. It’s an invitation. It’s a choice.

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  11. Cricket on July 4, 2014 at 10:51 AM

    As a biologist, I’ve been looking at this trust & relationship thing for a while. There’s a mathematical matrix called the Prisoner’s Dilemma that helps understand when to use trust and when to distrust or bail out. It is more profitable for both parties to trust/cooperate IF the other person involved is not faking us out. Unfortunately, about 1/50 to 1/20 persons seem to be an active faker/predator to some extent. Being eaten alive is very costly and painful. If we can tell who is the 1/20, we can quickly, quietly cut off interaction with them. Each new relationship can be managed with respectful attention in an attempt to discern whether the other person is actually cooperating or just being a really terrific faker. The 1/20 can be SO charming and attentive to what it is you personally look for as signs of goodness & trustworthiness, and can spend a lifetime honing manipulation. Always listen to your gut, and always keep a clear mind attuned to pattern recognition. That is the “wise as serpents” part of the algorithm.

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