Every once in a while I get blasted with the reality that I am, at heart, naive and entirely too trusting of people. Today is one of those days. I’m not bragging about being trusting, it has been a real problem for me on more than one occassion.
I expect that I’ve had the luxury of trust in that while growing up it was clear that I had all of the priviledges associated with whiteness and money. Every day of my young life, it looked to me like I could expect that the world was a just and honest place. Now, as I’ve grown up, I’ve learned that isn’t true – but not usually in a real personal sense. So I continue to approach people thinking the best of them until I’m proven to be wrong.
I won’t go into the gorry details, but today I learned that some people are not who I thought they were. It looks like their deception was calculated and not merely a misunderstanding. Lots of people are used to this kind of thing. I’m not. So it tends to rock my world a bit. But the old expectations are more deeply rooted than the few instances where they are proven wrong. So I know I’ll go on trusting the best about people…til the next time.
It wasn’t until I was in my 40’s that I began to learn that this issue of whether or not you approach people with trust was something that played out very differently with different people. As we usually do, I thought everyone was just like me. As I began to understand the differences, it helped me tackle some of the relationship and communication barriers I had experienced along the way. For example, as I try to get to know a young African American man I work with who grew up in New Orleans, I don’t take his occassional reluctance to engage with me personally. He learned VERY different lessons growing up. And since my line of work takes me in contact with police officers quite often, I can say with assurance that is NOT a profession I would have been suited to. Their profession and sometimes their lives depend on being skeptical and untrusting of what’s on the surface. These are just examples of some of the lessons I’ve learned as I became aware of how we are all different in this one area.
Part of my commitment to trust is that the most beautiful gift anyone has ever given to me was to trust me with abandon. This gift came from a graduate school professor who helped me “re-birth” from my condition of trusting everyone but the one person I could rely on – myself. And it was his complete trust of everything that was core in me, and the invitation for me to do the same, that opened a new path in my life. Sometimes I toy with thinking about the courage it took for him to do that. He knew he might be disappointed the way I have occassionally been. And yet he gave it freely. It meant the world to me and I’d like to think that someday I’d have his courage and be able to “pay it forward.”
Anyway, its hard for me to imagine approaching people with an eye towards how they might be deceiving me. Since it doesn’t come naturally, it would take a lot of work. And its not as if the world is nicely divided up into those who are trustworty and those who aren’t. We’re all much more complex than that. The idea that there are “good” and “evil” folks is a big part of what’s wrong with our culture these days. I think Alexander Solzhenitsyn summed it up very well:
If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
I’m certainly not willing to destroy my heart…or anyone else’s. So I guess you can just go on calling me naive and I’ll learn to live with that.