By Jamuna Rangachari
Trust is the glue that binds relationships and the grease that keeps the wheels of society moving. Without it, all human interaction would fall apart. A glimpse of the various avenues of trust
My household help, Sheela, was washing the dishes one morning when my attention was drawn to a glint on her left wrist. She was wearing a watch! My smile of pleased surprise faded when I found the watch looking most familiar. Surely that was my watch, which I had been looking for and been unable to find? My heart thudded with horror. How could she do this? She was a person I thought I knew and trusted.
Slowly, I asked, “New watch?” “Oh, it’s an old one but for me it is new, as it was gifted to me by my niece,” she replied with a happy smile. Was it over-confidence or lack of guilt? I sat down and assessed the situation again. Surely, she would not have flaunted the watch in front of me had there been an iota of guilt in her. I refrained from confronting her and searched all over again in the likely places my watch could possible be. Finally, to my great relief, I did find the watch in a remote corner. Was it a strange coincidence that she had happened to own the same model or was it a test of trust? I think it was the latter for I have never felt as gratified as I did that day in not allowing my trust to break down.
On the other end of the spectrum, we do have collapses of trust as well, which becomes even harder when the relationships are close ones.
“I will not touch a drop of alcohol, ever again,” said Mehta (name changed) a Mumbaiite, to his wife, after he had a bad accident due to his drunkenness. Though sceptical, his wife did feel this incident had brought him to his senses. Alas, he succumbed again to the temptation, much to her chagrin. Traumatised time and again, she felt she could never trust him henceforth.
Seeta Sahni (name changed) was devastated when her husband left her for another woman and even usurped some of her savings. They were in the same multinational organisation, which made it even harder. Embittered, she did not even have the courage to face the world, and certainly not her office colleagues.
When trust breaks down, relationships break down. Whether it is at the level of individuals, between families, or within society, trust is the inevitable glue that binds relationships. The wheels of society are greased by trust. Without it, all human interactions would fall apart. Yet, few of us look deeply at this quality and even less choose to consciously cultivate it. Trust’s worst enemy is the disposition towards cynicism. It is so much easier to believe that the world is largely untrustworthy and therefore must be fixed with a vigilant eye than it is to keep an open mind about life and people in general and risk getting hurt or duped.
However, the costs of mistrust are astronomical. At a personal level, mistrust forces us to operate from a defensive and resisting stand that breeds stress and psychosomatic illnesses within. The inability to trust also breeds unhappiness and alienation for deep relationships are impossible without it.
Even for those who trust their loved ones, trusting the larger world is difficult. But is that a satisfactory way to function? Are we aware that the more we trust, the more trustworthy life appears and the less we trust, the less trustworthy is life? After all, we get what we give and if we give thoughts of distrust, we will be given the experience of it. How can we work on this paradox? Is there a way to cultivate trust? How can we ensure that this does not expose us to duplicity and deceit? What does trust depend on? On others or on ourselves? And once trust is gone, is that the end of the equation? Let us explore.
The society and media
“Even in conflict-ridden Israel, the media follows an unwritten code of conduct. On the front page, positive stories of growth and development are printed,” said ex-President Kalam in an address, “Whereas here we always see theft, scams, terror, and the like. Is that the only thing that happens in our nation?” he queried.
The result of this assault of bad news on our consciousness is an ebbing away of trust. It has been dinned into us often enough that crime is increasing and we the people are increasingly unsafe. However, what we do not recognise is that the media prints the exception and not the rule. A thousand houses may not be burgled but the media will report the one house that has been burgled, or the one elder who has been murdered or the one child who has been molested. It is time we recognised that the media does not present a balanced view of society. It does not reflect real life. Because real life has far more good than bad. The average person encounters far more law-abiding citizens than criminals, and finds more good than bad in the world he lives in. Stories of love, compassion, selfless service and heroism can be seen by those who have eyes to see, because they are all around us.
In a train journey from Chennai to Mumbai, Mrs Ramesh (name changed) talked and chatted to a Gujarati couple for quite some time. Later in the day, she felt unwell and nauseous. The couple took it upon themselves to escort her home and as nobody was there, even waited until her husband returned from office.
Padma Srinivasan (name changed) wondered why the tea stall near her regular bus stand was closed. She often used to chat with the friendly seller Ahmed, and knew quite a bit about him. Suddenly Ahmed came, as if on cue, and said, “Come into my house and chat with my wife for a while. It is not safe to go on your route today.” This was a period when some anti-Tamil riots had erupted in Bangalore. She quickly went with him and called everyone to inform them that she was safe and may be home a little later, which she did do later in the day.
Conversely, when I had been to the UK some time ago, I felt weighed down by the cloud of suspicion with which I was viewed, with no way of removing it. The locals seemed to flinch even at making eye contact with me. I felt isolated and lonely and longed for a feeling of camaraderie. When I made friends later and shared this feeling with them, I was surprised at the reasons. Very few were genuinely suspicious. In most cases, it was just standard British reservation against strangers. Ironically, many did not even realise they had been aloof.
Even today, I can never forget this bleak phase and try not to subject another to such a feeling. The experience also made me realise that it is up to us to circumvent and create trust around us. Therefore, whenever possible, I smile, talk and reach out to all that I encounter. As a result, I have formed some wonderful friendships in trains, autos, taxis, vegetable shops and elsewhere. Many maintain that this universal friendliness is unwise. I maintain that not all strangers are out to rip us off and that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Even when we are asked for help, it is worthwhile assessing the person’s trustworthiness and responding instead of issuing a blanket refusal. (See box)
“How could you have sent this without testing?” my colleague screamed at our junior. “I did test it,” was the response but this was not heard at all. Later, it was found that another factor caused the issue. Had the situation been analysed rationally, without mistrust, the solution would have been found much earlier.
Unfortunately, at work, playing a blame game seems to be too prevalent today. At the top of the spectrum, the classic management theory discourages forming real bonds at work as it may interfere with dispassionate decision making However, this so-called pragmatic approach is anything but, for it is detrimental to the effectiveness of both the individual and the company. As Ameeta Shah, a counselling psychologist in Mumbai, says, “Trust is a gentle power that we can create between people that will allow us to get the others’ co-operation.” Even with the appropriate individuals on a team, a team that does not build a trusting relationship is not an effective team. It is actually only when the onus is taken together based on trust that effective teams can be formed. Therefore, all truly good and effective organisations will ensure an atmosphere of well-being and trust, as this is the foundation for effective communication, retention, motivation, and contribution.
“Ma’am, I leave you to decide what would be best. After all, you have more knowledge of the schemes available,” said a customer to Mrs Sridharan, a bank manager of a nationalised bank in Mumbai. This works both ways. When a customer whose papers were not as stipulated by the bank approaches her, she encourages the customers to apply for the schemes, helping them in the meantime to get their papers in order. This is because she does not dismiss their mistakes as deliberate fraudulent practice but gives the customer the benefit of the doubt. Today, the bank has gained tremendous goodwill in the area, and has gone ahead to generate more business. ‘Quality’, which is a buzzword in today’s world, is, after all, another term for trust. People begin to value a company’s promises and with this comes goodwill, which makes sure people come back for more.
‘Trust is a gentle power that we can
create between people that will allow
us to get the others’ co-operation’
“What a relief that I can count on you,” said my friend when she first landed from Mumbai in Delhi and handed her valuables to keep for a while. Yes, for me too, one of the greatest assets of being married to a defence officer is the sense of security that comes with the fact that we can all trust each other for help and guidance.
“Can I leave my baby with you for a minute,” a fellow Tamilian asked on a train journey. We had hardly spoken to each other, but the common thread of identity created this comfort in her. A deep need for community is there in each of us. Whatever may be the commonality, trust is the glue, which holds together authentic, true communities, as opposed to artificial ones.
Very often however, the reverse happens with stereotypes and preconceived notions blocking us from seeing that the other is very much like us, which in essence is the root of so much alienation in the world. In our earlier examples if Mrs Ramesh, a South Indian, had viewed the Gujarati couple as Gujarati and not human beings, she would have found it much more difficult to return home. If Mrs Srinivasan, a Hindu, had recognised Ahmed as a Muslim and not a human being, she would neither have been friendly nor had a relatively easy time during an unstable day in Bangalore. I hope that one day, not too far gone; we shall indeed see the entire world as one community.
“Our parents don’t trust us,” is the complaint of most youngsters today, found Devansh Mittal, who conducts Jeevan Vidya workshops with children in Hyderabad.
“Trust is what helps to connect with children,” says Dr Bhatt, a psychotherapist in Mumbai, emphasising its importance in forming a strong bond. Even at a young age, he suggests giving children age-specific responsibilities and helping them when required instead of never trusting them on their own. When they grow older, a fair amount of choices can be left with them as they are on the threshold of facing life on their own.
“I never fib to my children,” says Mrs Lobo from Goa. Realising that trust can be built only if one’s words are trustworthy, she takes the difficult route of being honest instead of the easier one of keeping them in the dark. Yes, trust is a two-way connection and can remain intact only if there is a give and take. With children, it is such an attitude that helps them form their own attitude towards the world in general, and aids them in forming and creating trustworthy relationships.
“When you expect the other person to be trustworthy, you feel liberated with that person, you feel that you can say anything, do anything, without any constraints, without thinking twice, without any suffocation. Then, should you not extend the same to your children?” asks Devansh Mittal.
This is often the core issue in many relationships. We all wish that the other person trusts us, understands us and respects us. However, we fail to see the expectation from the other side. In fact, most relationships falter and even fail when trust is either not seen or communicated. When applied effectively, however, trust has immense capacity to empower. As Dr Bhatt says, “With trust, you make the other feel worthy of himself.” In intimate relations, surely, trust is the glue, which can tide you over; come what may. “Let this be my last word, but I trust in thy love,” said Rabindranath Tagore. We could replace love with integrity, honesty, loyalty and the words would be equally potent.
|Learning to trust your team|
Unfortunately, there are times when one is let down even in intimate relations. What does one do? As the only thing one can do is accept, it makes sense to do so, recognising it as God’s will or karma. The recognition that even the worst thing that happens to us is because of our own culpability frees us from the temptation to play the victim or the blame game.
In Dada Vaswani’s view, “Everything that is happening to us is in accordance with the law of karma. What is happening to us today is only what we did in the past returning to us. Therefore, let us hold no grudge in our heart against anyone. Let us explain to ourselves that old accounts are being settled.”
It also helps to learn the lessons it has to offer us if any, and then move on. This is what Seeta Sahni did. Realising there was no way she could continue where she was, she began afresh in a new company in her own hometown,which she had left for the current one. “I did not run away but wished to begin anew,” she says, now at peace and much happier.
No matter how embittering an experience we may have had, it is important to acknowledge that this was a one-off situation and it does not entitle us to draw conclusions about people or life. We need to allow ourselves to heal so that we can return to the game of life with renewed enthusiasm. Allowing the act of another person to limit and embitter us is folly.
‘My father gave me wings by his total trust in me. Such was his trust; I never wanted to let him down’
Mahesh (name changed) from Bangalore went through a bleak phase when he was fired from two jobs in a row. So much so, that he even avoided meeting relatives and friends. “Those who really care for you will understand. Others will comment. Let it be. That’s the way of the world,” his wife counselled and gradually led him to believe in himself again and to work on his weak points. He bounced back to a state of well-being, and rose tremendously in the esteem of others and himself.
Losing trust in oneself is probably one of life’s most painful experiences, for it makes it almost impossible to live life. It creates a deep sense of self-alienation, and hobbles our spontaneity and authenticity. The best basis for self-trust is to recognise that we are fundamentally whole, perfect and complete for that is our true nature. We need to ongoingly forgive ourselves, and reiterate our faith and trust in ourselves.
Apart from self-love, regaining self-trust will depend on having loving, accepting people around us who can help us to accept ourselves too. Over time, the self-distrust will fade away and you will find yourself naturally appropriate, naturally right.
“He will never improve,” “I can never hold down a job.” Both of these statements are often heard and assumed by many of us. But, don’t we know that life is never static? When the Almighty has not lost faith in us, despite many slip-ups, how can we not give another chance to the other and even to ourselves?
Alcoholics Anonymous works towards ensuring alcoholics remain sober, accommodates any number of slip-ups, as long as a person’s desire to reform is genuine. Such a sustained faith in the person has enabled them to reap amazing results, which sometimes even surprises them. In Mehta’s case, he joined the group and actually did recover from the malaise, to the tremendous relief of his wife.
In the tale of Angulimala, who got a new lease of life with the Buddha it did not matter how heinous his crimes were. What mattered was his genuine desire to reform himself. Reform, he does, but acceptance in the sangha does not come instantly. His penitence is tested severely but slowly and surely, he does gain the trust of the entire sangha. Is this not justice at its best? Could this have happened without the trust shown by the Buddha?
It is important to remember that all of us are growing, evolving human beings and that we cannot be judged by our past actions. This is particularly important in intimate relationships, especially between parents and children. Parents are obliged to keep their minds open to the redemption of their wards, no matter how incorrigible their behaviour. Children often accept their parents’ assessment of themselves unquestioningly and statements like, “You will never succeed in life” or “You are a stupid person” can condemn them to a lifetime of failure. Keep the faith. These children too will find their Higher Self in the fullness of time. Only believe!
Faith and trust
A person with complete faith always trusts others, as he sees the Divine in all beings.
Very often, the trust they show actually prevents people from misusing it. “If she does not trust me, why should I bother to be honest,” is a common line of argument. Conversely, people do also think, “She trusts me so much. I should not let her down.”
Says artist and healer, Dinaz Dastur, “When growing up, my father gave me wings by his total trust in me. Such was his trust; I never ever wanted to let him down. It was the best insurance he could have that my conduct would be above reproach.”
“I am sure God will not let me down,” is my mother-in-law’s mantra of well-being. Whatever the situation, she is certain she will tide over it. With people too, she is totally trusting. Even if a person lets her down, she thinks perhaps it is for the best in the Divine plan.
Fear – the obstacle
What prevents trust? When a young child jumps into his/ her mother’s arms without a moment of hesitation of doubt, it is complete trust. With others, he/she may take a little while but when the trust is won over, it is complete. That is where his/her sense of well-being comes from.
Conversely, in a famous fable, a cat is given hot milk once, and never goes anywhere near milk at all again. So it is with most of us. Fear of pain and a deep need for self-protection is what stops us from trusting life after one or two bad experiences. Unfortunately, the more we distrust life, the more proof we have that life is untrustworthy. Therefore, we have no option but to heal our wounds, and engage in life again.
Just as the demons of fear destroy love, they destroy trust. With this, the core component of trust, a feeling of security, hopefulness and optimism, is lost.
Essentially, trust is the integrity and consistency we hope to see. For sure, continuing to trust in the face of blatant and ongoing betrayal is not wise. On the other hand, the tendency to view trust as foolishness or naiveté is detrimental to our own growth. Instead, we could view the benevolence of a stranger to be based on a general goodwill towards humanity, the benevolence of a boss to be based on an appreciation of our diligence and skill, and that of an intimate to be based on fondness or love. Similarly, let us create trust in our own selves too, taking our words and commitments seriously.
As in all areas of life, when the perspective changes, so does the world. Maybe it’s time we work towards reclaiming a feeling of trust that is so essential in all our lives. Let us begin by treating ourselves with a whopping dose of trust in the world and in ourselves.
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