Who do you (still) trust?

By Caitlin Kelly


If — bless you, my child! — you still actually trust any institution, charity, government, authority figure, public servant, media outlet or corporate entity, it’s been a remarkably shitty few weeks:

The NSA is spying on everyone.

Target’s database of customers got hacked.

Snapchat, too.

Retired New York City cops and firefighters — 106 of whom faked post 9/11 trauma — ripped off Social Security for $21.4 million.

A Bronx assemblyman is charged with accepting $20,000 worth of bribes to help four local businessmen.

New Jersey governor — and soon-to-be Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie — is now caught up in a new political scandal.

I moved to New York in 1989, my NYC-born mother’s advice ringing in my ears: “People lie.”

Why, yes, they do. In astonishing numbers.

I grew up in Toronto, hardly a hamlet, but in a country with 10 times fewer people than the United States, where you can commit a whole pile ‘o crimes, move states (even keeping your name!) and start all over again. In Canada, if you lie, cheat and steal, the odds are exponentially higher that people in your professional and/or social circles will realize you’re a lying sack of shit and your odds of repeating your felonies and misdemeanors — or mere lies — probably somewhat lower as a result.

Not here!

My first husband lied to me for months, then left. Later, as the lonely and insecure victim of a skilled con artist, back in 1998, I saw how effectively one’s buttons — (good looks! charm! intelligence! devoted attention!) can be pushed — by someone in the determined pursuit of a wholly different goal than one expects.

It amazes me, in a good way, how much trust is absolutely foundational to a functional world — whether your dog trusting you to walk him or her, even in -25 degree weather, or your boss relying on your skills to keep his or her company ethically profitable.

Every client who chooses to hire me freelance is placing their trust in me, an action I never take lightly. I think one of my USPs (keck — unique selling propositions) is that I almost never get it wrong; in 20 years writing for The New York Times, only three (damn them!) corrections.

Each time I apologized immediately and sincerely to my wronged source and editor. Luckily, all were gracious and forgiving.

I suspect we’re more forgiving of someone who is (briefly) fallible than falsely flawless.

Trust is not an endlessly renewable resource.

I recently re-watched the terrific film “An Education”, starring Carey Mulligan in her break-out role as a naive, bookish 16-year-old who falls hard for a charming liar, (is there any other kind?), and learns quite a bit as a result. So does her family, won over by David’s gorgeous car, smooth manners and apparently elitist connections.

Here’s American business guru Seth Godin on who we choose to read (deeply) and whose ideas we click past and dismiss:

TL;DR is internet talk for “too long; didn’t read”. It’s also a sad, dangerous symptom of the malfunctions caused by the internet tsunami…That mindset, of focusing merely on what’s fast, is now a common reaction to many online options.

There’s a checklist, punchline mentality that’s dangerous and easy to adopt. Enough with the build up, wrap this up, let me check it off, categorize it and quickly get to the next thing… c’mon, c’mon, too late, TL;DR…

Let’s agree on two things:

1. There are thousands of times as many things available to read as there were a decade ago. It’s possible that in fact there are millions as many.

2. Now that everyone can write, publish, email you stuff and generally make noise, everyone might and many people already are.

As a result, there’s too much noise, too much poorly written, overly written, defensively written and generally useless stuff cluttering your life.

When we had trusted curators it was easy. We read what we were supposed to read, we read what we trusted, regardless of how long it was, because the curator was taking a risk and promising us it was worth it. No longer. Now, it’s up to us.

We’re all susceptible to someone and their siren song: great sex, access to power, scintillating charm, a cool car, seductive flattery.

The comfort of feeling safe, even if we’re very much not…

How about you?

Who do you trust — fully, implicitly, cautiously — and why?

Have you ever had your trustΒ  abused?

What happened after that?

41 thoughts on “Who do you (still) trust?

  1. There have been times when my trust has been let down or when I felt someone wasn’t worthy of trusting. There are only a couple of authority figures I do trust, but I trust them for good reasons. Honestly, it’s hard to believe the world we live in sometimes. How did it get this way? Or was it always this way?

  2. We’ve all had our trust abused at one point or another, but I thought it was a fascinating coincidence that you address this topic and ask this question because I have been struggling with the “after-effect” of this very issue. This is going to sound like Junior High School, and I am NOT, but the short version is I had a very powerful, serious crush on someone for a long time. He knew it, he said he just wanted to be friends, but the way he said it made me think he meant “for now.” I also had a best female friend, and the three of us enjoyed a cozy acquaintance. You can see where this is going. After turning me down, he started chasing my best friend, and despite the fact that she watched me be crazy about this person for 6 months, she was unable to resist his attention, started seeing him behind my back, and they basically pushed me out of the picture. They broke it off, but they are still close friends, and now he and I do not speak at all. Somehow I managed to forgive her, and we are still friends, but I find it hard to trust her since they are still close while I am left out. It has been very hard, very hurtful, and yet hopefully I have learned some things. πŸ™‚

    1. Ouch.

      Sorry to hear this. I had a very similar situation — worse, weirdly — because the girl in question lived *in my apartment*. Gah. The whole thing was nightmarish. I suspect the lesson is: don’t have crushes. Find a guy who’s ready to reciprocate. But I know the power of a crush, for sure!

  3. I trust my husband and a few others. Have I had my trust abused? Yes. I was married to a narcissist who was also a charming pathological liar … and an emotionally abusive cheat and thief. It took me a while to recover but I had a great counsellor who helped me get my life back. Great post. πŸ™‚

    1. Thanks.

      Narcissists are something else. I have a few in my family and holy hell can they screw you up. Glad you are now free and in good shape. Therapy helps you see how entangling their pathology is. I recently started again and it’s helped a lot.

  4. I love this post. I connected with it — unfortunately, who doesn’t? I’ve been lied to many times, but the worst time was when I gave my trust to a man who used his charm to lure me in and abusive behaviors to sooth his insecurities. Fortunately, I got out and learned to trust a partner again. However, trust is hard — of course, not just in a significant other, but as you say, in any charity, government, or corporate entity, is extremely difficult.

    On a lighter note — I LOVE the movie, An Education! It’s a go-to movie in my collection.

    1. I figured many people have been down this sorry path, too…

      I think the hardest part (for me anyway) is trusting yourself to choose more wisely the next time. I found that the most difficult.

      I love that movie as well. Many lessons in it and is Rosamund Pike not THE most gorgeous woman ever?

  5. Wow, what a topic this week! Certainly everyone’s trust has been violated at some point, whether intentionally or unintentionally. I’ve worked for politicians, and yes, while many are dogs, there are a few boy scouts in public service still (though they never make the press…good news is no news). I suppose for me, I take each person and institution at face value. I can’t let past violations of trust affect a new relationship, job or circumstance. I give them the benefit of the doubt….but as Reagan used to droll on about, “Trust, but Verify.” Very few humans have my unconditional trust. My spouse is one of them. Having been a child in a divorced family, it took about 30 years to give that trust over again, first cautiously, then fully.

    1. It’s sadly true that people who just get up and do a good job are not “news” — we only pay attention to malfeasance. Which is nuts and one of the things I most dislike about the media, writ large.

      I agree with Reagan (whom my husband has quoted to me as well, having been a White House photographer who spent time around him) — but sometimes it’s impossible to verify. I had many suspicions my first husband was cheating but he was an MD working in a hospital and if there is any culture more protective and less permeable than police it is medicine. I never knew where we was (really) and was forced to trust even when I did not. Luckily, journalism (husband 2) isn’t like that!

      My parents split when I was seven, so I hear you on that one.

  6. i used to always trust first, unless proven otherwise, an approach that didnot always work, but i consider myself cautiously optimistic these days. i loved ‘an education’ as well. a perfect example of someone misusing another’s trust.

    1. Me, too. I think it’s one of the most attractive qualities in a person. I’d rather be burned occasionally (it happens) than be cynical, closed and lonely. But it’s difficult to sift gold from dross.

      I think the film is also — which was my point about my own con man — highly instructive about what *makes* us think someone is trustworthy when all they’ve done (a con man specialty; con being short for confidence in) is read us like a book and know exactly what will make us think they’re OK…

      1. mylifeinfocusblog

        I did trust my mother, but she died many years ago. Friends, Family, including daughters, sister, husband, brother are most assuredly NOT to be trusted. I’d have better luck trusting a complete stranger than what those folks have done to me over the years. I forgive. But I never forget. Yes, very sad indeed.

      2. Wow. I hope that husband (?) is now an ex…?

        In fact, many strangers ARE much more honest and reliable than “family.” Been there, lived a whole pile of lies, and hated every minute of it. I hear you!

  7. I still trust people. I just recognize I guess that everyone has their own agenda, and it doesn’t always jive with mine.

    My sister is one I trust with no reservations. I do find the list has shrunk over the years, but alas the lessons of life do have a way of knocking that blind faith outa ya. My boyfriend who recently died was, hands down, the biggest lying sack of shit I’ve ever encountered. White, black and green, he told every colour under the rainbow of lies. πŸ˜‰ What ya gonna do though… once I found out the extent, he was knocking at deaths door. Yet I did learn a thing or two from him, and for that I am grateful – like what someone LOOKS like when they’re lying their arse off, and how to deal with the shite the try to shovel at you. Live and learn… not everyone can be trusted – I guess we just learn how to deal with it better.

    1. That’s a great point — it’s so easy to think we’re on the same page when we’re not even in the same book! We often live in hopeful denial.

      There is a new book out by a former FBI agent about detecting a liar and my favorite book is The Gift of Fear by Gavin deBecker which is BRILLIANT about our emotional buttons and how women are heavily socialized to “be nice” instead of being wary, smart and safe.

      I’m (in sad hindsight) really glad the con man got his hooks into me. It woke me up in many ways — to my own social isolation (I joined a church shortly thereafter); to my own insecurity (we all get there sometimes) and my hunger for someone to take care of me (normal but not him!) I now am hyper-alert to any sort of deceptive behavior.

      1. That last paragraph just described me, and where I have been, and definitely where I am mentally right now. Knew there was some other reason that I LUV your style…

        “Socialized to be nice'” … man, can I identify with that πŸ˜‰ I often spend quality time with myself on this internal dialogue, practicing how to “be a beitch”. It does not come naturally, but man, does that have some fantastic qualities’.

        Today, I am alittle more jaded, but I do still treat people respectfully, say thank you, smile, tip well and I suppose be the good ol’southern girl, wrapped up in my Canadian parka that I am. It really does help psychologically, and socially, to be nice, especially when the other person is being a jerk… means they haven’t got to you, and it often drives them nuts πŸ™‚ Anywho, alittle manners never hurt anyone.

      2. Thanks…

        It’s one of the reasons I’m completely fine admitting that SOB felon got the best of me…because who among us has NEVER once felt completely abandoned, lonely, insecure? Who could have seen (not me, certainly, at first) the malign intent behind the man who (yes) brought me a pot of home-made soup to my door when I was ill — and later stole my credit card and lied to the DA about me? Talk about a head-spinning few months. Indeedy.

        Be a bitch. I give lessons! πŸ™‚ All it means (and that means a lot) is knowing exactly where your boundaries lay, ensuring they have a bit of razor-wire around them, and making sure others are aware these boundaries exist. I spent decades kow-towing to narcissists and it really did not help me in any way to have healthy relationships in the rest of my life — friends, husbands, work, etc. Yet women are considered so much “nicer” when we’re go-along-get-along. Doormats come in handy, that’s for sure.

        I have friends. I have allies. I have people who love and respect me. Let the rest consider me “a bitch.” I’m fine with it.

  8. BrenΓ© Brown’s work on vulnerability is interesting, and in light of this I would hate to become untrusting of everyone, because so much good stuff happens when we are vulnerable. But. I have implemented a trust, test, check, trust, check, test process that I as basic self-preservation because I tend to be too trusting! Trust needs to be earned and should not be given away willy nilly.

    1. I know her work and I agree…it’s a challenge for sure to decide who and when and where to trust, and sometimes we still get burned.
      But I’ve seen, for me anyway, that selective (?) vulnerability works.

      Frankly, this blog is an example of that…I often make myself very vulnerable (to trolls, sneering, whatever) when I write about more personal things in my life. So every post in that vein is an expression of trust.

  9. In my world trust is an earned commodity. Always has been. I work on the benefit of the doubt; I assume people will be professional, and I give them my trust. It has cost me to do so – both lost opportunities and income – when that trust has been betrayed; but I figure that if we don’t take the attitude that we should and must trust people, then there’s something fundamentally wrong with society. On the other hand, when my trust is betrayed – and it happens – then whoever does it won’t get a second chance. None. If they can betray once, they will do so again, and if they object to being treated as if they profoundly lack integrity – well, tough. That’s exactly what they lack.

    1. It’s a sobering moment when it happens. I agree, once bitten, twice shy. I’m also quite happy to share — with wide social media networks — the names and details of those who have cheated me and lied to me professionally. In our world, that’s the only way to stay safe. It’s essential to know the bad actors *before* accepting work from them or engaging with them.

      It’s really tough in a smaller place, too!

  10. My wife and my immediate blood relatives, because they have earned it. years ago, I had a bad experience with what I thought was a best friend. Since then, I can count the number of my close friends on one hand and it has been 25 years. I agree with Matt that we have to move forward with cautious trust because it is too depressing to do otherwise. A phrase we use at work that fits this post is, “Trust, but verify.” This is sad but true.

    1. I’m sorry you got burned — and by a “best friend.” I did, too. I was BFFs for a decade with a woman I thought would be friends for life. I later discovered she’d been quite deceitful with me and it left a bitter taste. That was about a decade ago. I have made some new friends since, and my standards are a lot higher!

  11. Moms' Hearts Unsilenced

    The most important person I need to be able to trust is myself. I need to trust my instinct & that I will stand up for myself & protect myself. Unfortunately, an untrustworthy family court system has made it impossible for me to protect my own child from the psychological control & abuse & the neglect of my ex who does not comply with court orders, which are unenforced except the part where I pay health insurance AND child support while he is allowed to hide his income, among other things. Evidence of child porn on his computer “disappeared” from the DAs office — the assistant DA is my ex’s business partner’s son-in-law. My ex got away with sexual misconduct in the military because he is related to Senator Richard Shelby; he will be drawing thousands of dollars a month in retirement from the US Army. He did lose his commissioning, but retired as an enlisted with the benefits of his officer status. Unfortunately, these cover-ups have allowed him to continue his miserable life obsessing with making other miserable with harassment, law-suits, physical abuse & most of all: hate & lies & mental abuse. Please keep doing the courageous thing & speak up & out against what is wrong.

    1. That’s a lot to carry and deal with. I’m sorry to hear it.

      When the con man destroyed my life (briefly), the ONLY person of any practical use to me, (and thank God for him) was a private detective I hired and paid, a former NYC cop, who was both tough and deeply compassionate. The local cops laughed at me. The local DA sneered at evidence of six (!) felonies against me. Really? Yes, really.

      I’ve never ever seen law enforcement and the judicial system the same way since then — i.e. with deep mistrust and a very clear notion that whatever fight I must fight is mine alone, to be smart, tough, savvy and vigilant.

      And hire every possible expert to get them to be your pit-bull. I’ve hired lawyers multiple times. Every penny is worth it when I win against cheating, lying deadbeats.

      Go get ’em!

      1. Moms' Hearts Unsilenced

        I am sorry for what you’ve been through. Yes, every penny is worth it — except I get put in jail if I don’t pay him child support & cover family insurance & he would use that against my character — but that is not what stops me: it’s how he psychologically torments & sickens my daughter & affects my whole family every time I attempt confronting what he does or should not do via a joke of a legal system. Family court there is a joke — esp. when your ex has 3xs the money & the ability to lie & manipulate & turn everything — the GOOD things, the RIGHT things against you somehow. It’s insane. What’s more, he absolutely delights in the opportunity to abuse me & make me look bad in front of my daughter with his twists of reality. The pen is mightier than the sword in this situation. I pray the writings of Parental Alienation victims will reach all the kids affected.
        Thank you for the story & encouragement. I hope other parents will use a good PI & win justice. Often an abuser is doing some things to break the law, I believe.

      2. Some people are simply toxic. Too bad you are tied to him through your child. I am very very grateful (sorry to say) I never had kids, and this is one of the reasons. I grew up in a family with a shitload of fighting over almost everything and swore to never be around that again.

      3. Moms' Hearts Unsilenced

        My daughter is used to abuse me. May you be surrounded by peace & more love than you can imagine.

  12. What a great post to make you think, Caitlin. It’s true, the more we learn about how corrupt the world is, the harder it is to trust. Are we to question everyone and everything until it proves it really is on the up-and-up or are we to blindly trust until burned? It’s theme I wonder about quite frequently. Sure, our experiences teach us to be wary of what seems too good to be true, but sometimes I feel that people are becoming too jaded because there are just so many shitty people doing shitty things in the world. But how can you not? It’s a topic that could keep you pondering for many years.

    1. Thanks…

      It’s very much on my mind with work as well, and my cynicism is proving detrimental at times…Magazines demand you sign contracts that claw back 75% (!) of the agreed fee if they decide, for whatever reasons, to “kill” it. So I’m expected to wholly trust people I know little about and take a huge financial hit while they collect full paychecks.

      Not my kind of favorite work environment. When you push back or question, you’re labeled as “difficult.”

  13. Inese Poga Art Gallery

    I have and had a wonderful family, and I can trust them all completely. It never crossed my mind that it could be not like that. I think European families, at least some, like mine in Latvia, are more genuine and honest in relationships. I’ve seen here in North America families fighting for money and holding grudge for many years, and so on. I could not even imagine that I would have to argue with my mom (she’s 83) or sister, or daughter about some financial issues. I learned early that the only other person who one can trust absolutely and completely is him- or herself assuming this person is honest to him- or herself. I think, trusting too much friends or spouses, or even husbands and wives can have not that great outcome if you are not aware what this person could be hiding, not disclosing, etc. There’s an old Russian proverb: trust, but verify; meaning the trust shouldn’t be blind since life is life, and the best friends can become the worst enemies, as well.
    Secondly, I noticed right away when I relocated to Canada, that people were lying a lot. For absolutely no reason, too. They’d often say and promise everything, and I still cannot get used to it. I’m 55, and I spent 46 years in Europe. It basically was very different from here: one may hear less compliments and sweet and kind promises, etc,. but if somebody told they’d do this or that, or they think this or that (not necessarily good stuff), that was what they’d do. This actually was and to some extent still is the hardest part of living and doing business here in Canada. I am aware by now that I cannot believe practically anything until these people prove otherwise, but it’s tough. I cannot even understand the purpose of this as if “routine lying”. Like why? Just say: I don’t like this, I hate that and I am not doing this or whatever. This is probably somehow associated with the upbringing or the social opinion. I don’t get it. However, since I’m telling truth, some people may consider me totally impolite. I have no problem telling somebody that their work is not acceptable, or they are wrong, or they have done something terribly bad.

    1. Sorry to hear this — and not the least bit surprised to hear you are facing this problem.

      I moved to the U.S. in 1988 and NYC area in 1989. I was born and raised there to the age of 30. I still have dear Canadian friends, but find doing almost any sort of business with Canadians deeply frustrating and I now avoid it at all costs. They are terrified of offending, of conflict and of risk and avoid direct answers of “No. It’s not going to happen. I don’t want to do that.” I have been asked repeatedly to work for free; have had phone calls and emails unanswered by people with whom I have direct personal and social connections…It’s a nightmare and I don’t miss it a bit.

      I chose the U.S. — which offers plenty of its own problems! — for this reason. I am direct and want to get on with things. I’m amazed and grateful here that, if someone thinks they can do business with you, they are often quite likely to take your call or meeting instead of running away scared. I had an American assistant a few years ago tell me she wouldn’t last a week in Canada because of this. I agree. It’s appalling and cowardly and very prevalent.

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