Trustworthy and trusting

alligator

  Photo courtesy of the Horton Group

“You’re too trustworthy,” someone once told me. Huh? Is that possible?

Of course, it was the wrong word. What the knucklehead meant was “too trusting.”

The reason some people are trusting is because they’re trustworthy.

We tend to assume that other people are more precisely like us than they really are. We expect their behavior and their thoughts to be replicas of our own, and we’re irritated and disappointed, or maybe amazed, when that isn’t the case.

If we tend to trust people—if we’re trusting—it’s because we anticipate that others won’t do anything we wouldn’t do. If we’re trustworthy, then we expect other people to be trustworthy.

Conversely, if we’re suspicious and defensive, it’s because we know ourselves too well, and we’re not to be trusted. We assume everyone else is as deceptive as we are.

This theory makes perfect sense to me, since I figure everyone thinks just like I do. If any psychological studies have debunked my long-held belief, I hope you’ll just keep the findings to yourself and leave me to my fantasies.

When trusting backfires, I try not to be too hard on myself. How’s that for a dysfunctional feedback loop?

16 thoughts on “Trustworthy and trusting

  1. John Overman

    I think being trusting does make us more vulnerable, but we limit ourselves if we don’t take risks. Personally, I think the trusting person is always to be revered. After all, the trusting person expects good. That expectation of goodness must also reflect the positive character of the trusting person.

  2. Mike

    It’s an interesting hypothesis. I’m known for being rather paranoid. My USB sticks are encrypted. I just bought a killer new shredder. I never use social media from a work PC. When I decommission a computer, I smash the hard drive platens with a hammer and scatter the debris across different trash cans in multiple municipalities.

    Upon reflection, yes, this may well have something to do with my own skill set. I am determined to make sure that any identity thief must be using tools that are not only beyond my grasp, but beyond my conception.

    Perhaps I’m being a bit too careful. I may try cutting down to two trash cans. But you’ll have to pry my fingerprint-encrypted hard drive away from my cold, dead fingers.

  3. Robin Mizell Post author

    Is that your .exe file on my hard drive, Mike?

    I don’t think being foolhardy is the same thing as being trusting. Stay with me here… Although the hypothesis probably is unsound, maybe there’s another way to state it.

    If the only behavior you tend to imagine other people being capable of is trustworthy behavior, then probably you’re not engaging in a lot of underhandedness. Otherwise, you’d be intimately aware of how low people can go. However, if your job, or part of it, involves defending systems against intrusion and theft, then you’re forced to understand a lot more than most people know about untrustworthy behavior, at least a specific type of untrustworthy behavior. As long as you don’t come to romanticize it, then you’ll probably remain trustworthy and you won’t begin thinking that everyone’s an identity thief. If, on the other hand, you start to creep over to the dark side, then you’ll rationalize that everyone cheats, lies, and steals PINs and credit card numbers. Because then you’ve convinced yourself that because everyone’s untrustworthy, you might as well join the club.

    Is it a burden to know what you know? You still grant some people security clearances, so to speak. Do you take elaborate precautions in situations that have nothing to do with theft prevention?

    JMO makes a good point about positivity. If someone trusts you, don’t you also perceive that as an indication of trustworthiness?

  4. Mike

    “Elaborate precautions?” The reflex answer is no, but upon circumspection, quite possibly. I do perform threat analysis on any piece of information about myself.

    * Could someone steal my stuff with this knowledge? (I can think of many ways to steal stuff that don’t involve crowbars or baseball bats.)
    * Might I be denied credit or a job? (Either might be turned down, non-transparently, on the most arbitrary, subjective and petty of rationales.)
    * Might the FBI consider this tidbit as a potential hallmark of an agitator? How about the TSA — might they recommend just a couple of extra questions every time I fly?

    My fears reflect faceless corporate evil and faceless government buffoons. Real people are neither evil nor buffoons. But yes, your reference to “security clearances” is apt. Until I know you’re not an evil buffoon, you *could be* an evil buffoon. Trust is earned.

    Saying that makes me sound like some kind of egomaniac playing God: [lowers voice] “I shall determine the worth of each who comes before me…”

    Really, though, my stance is just meant to cover my fleshy and vulnerable buns.

  5. Robin Mizell Post author

    Maybe I’m wrong, but I still think you’re more aware than most people that a very small population of criminals is responsible for a huge proportion of identity theft/fraud. However, it needs to be said that deadbeat family and household members also account for a chunk of fraud. So, it seems you’re describing your methodical approach to prevention. Rather than an unwillingness to trust, you’re exhibiting an unwillingness to put yourself in harm’s way. Nothing wrong with refusing to make yourself an easy target.

    Distraction: I searched for an adjective better than implacable (to modify unwillingness) and discovered that the usage example in my thesaurus is “the computer hacker has become the new implacable foe.” Funny.

    Would it be accurate to say that you don’t believe most people are untrustworthy—that is, do you believe that most people are trustworthy? That’s the question.

  6. Mike

    I firmly believe that the vast majority of people are trustworthy. Vast, vast, vast. “The 99%.”

    (Hmm. “A vast majority” … is singular? So “a vast majority *is*” rather than “are”? Feeling unsure of myself. Need to spend a little quality time with Strunk and White.)

    However, the untrustworthy 1% — not the same 1% as the Occupiers are protesting, though there is some overlap — can do immense and long-lasting, if not permanent, damage in a very short period of time. Damage that can far exceed your current net worth and that can impair future earning capacity.

    My vigilance-slash-paranoia increases as a function of size of risk and its irreparability.

  7. Robin Mizell Post author

    Could it be that you feel obligated to practice what you preach? A security breach that most people would shrug off might seem like a smackdown to you.

    What about risks that can’t be avoided? Like the risk of being in an automobile accident, the risk of divorce, the risk of losing money on your investments? You have to close your eyes to some risks some of the time.

  8. Mike

    It’s funny — I had a couple of grafs on those very subjects and spiked them as non-germane. Clearly I was wrong :)

    It’s true that at any time I could be maimed in a car crash, dumped for a Kardashian, or dropped into the Atlantic by a shoe bomber. I take a risk walking around in a big city, much less with money in my pocket. For me, it’s a question of whether I’ve done what I could to balance risk and reward. The absolutely risk-averse would never get married and certainly would not live where I do.

    Being a Montana hermit, though, does not suit my temperament. And besides, my wife tells me there’s only one male Kardashian.

  9. Robin Mizell Post author

    We get better at cost-benefit analyses as we get older. Have you read Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink? I haven’t, but maybe it’s relevant.

    We went off on a bit of a tangent here, but judging whether to trust someone is the way we minimize risk. When you protect your confidential information, you’re trying to deter someone you’ll probably never see from taking something that belongs to you. You know you won’t have an opportunity to judge whether to trust that person.

    People who can’t live like hermits—Fanny Brice said they’re the luckiest people in the world.

  10. Jo

    Sorry…I had a double-take there…unmarried people aren’t taking a risk by being unmarried?

    Ahahahahahahahahahaha…

    Oh, THAT’S a GOOD one…

    (Snort, snort…eheheheheheheh…)

    Ahem. Ok. I’m good now. :)

    *Walks away, humming Streisand*

  11. Mike

    Call me a fool — many have — but I *will* emerge from the hermitage for that one.

    Jo is exactly right in a way that we don’t think about much: There are risks from inaction as much as from action. Going back to Robin’s thought about investments, which I didn’t discuss — there’s a definite risk in leaving them be, wherever they are. Whether that means leaving everything in cash, or leaving yourself in a 90% stock position as you reach retirement age, inaction feels like risk avoidance when it can actually be risk acquisition.

    Married people take a risk in choosing not to have children as much as they do in choosing to have them. As a couple ages, not having kids robs them of an important source of support. There’s no guarantee that your kids will live near you, and they’re unlikely to have enough money or time to take care of you in a meaningful way — but emotional support feeds into that “power of positive thinking” that someone used as a book title once, I think. As filler for a whole book, it’s bunk. But I do believe that better outcomes come to those who believe their outcomes will be better.

    Backing up to marriage, similar arguments exist but with a much stronger tie — your partner *will* have as much money as you, as it’s pooled, and *will* live with you. There’s a darker downside, too; the risks of becoming so intertwined with another person are very material.

    Not to put too fine a point on it, Jo: Men are scum.

  12. Robin Mizell Post author

    Is it currently possible to leave yourself in a 90% stock position through inaction? I’ve noticed the percentage decreasing right along with the value of the stocks, and I didn’t need to do anything to make it happen. (laughing)

    We’re so inclined to “believe that better outcomes come to those who believe their outcomes will be better” that we falsely believe our decisions are good ones even when they’re not. But it’s true that a crummy attitude will get a person nowhere.

    The comments here are coming from people at every point on the marriage spectrum. Couldn’t have selected a better focus group.

    The thing is, you’re going to lose the person you love someday, if you count being the first to die as one way of separating. It comes down to whether you’re willing to take a risk that the heartbreak and the economic consequences might be felt much sooner. The selection of a partner is the most important decision of your life.

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