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Reflections on Trust

I've been thinking a lot lately about trust. Major surgery has a way of doing that.

So here's the question that's been boiling around in my brain, in between pain meds, Eat, Pray, Love and a trip through Season 3 of Six Feet Under--How can we put our lives in the hands of strangers? I mean, literally put our lives in their hands?

A specialist performed my surgery, a man I met exactly twice before I saw him in the operating room. I have no idea if this guy is a drinker or if he ate breakfast that morning or if he had a fight with his wife right before he came in to operate on me. He seemed OK, but how do I know? Why did I lie back and let him rummage around in my abdomen to remove a major organ, assuming (except for a few fleeting moments of anxiety) that everything would turn out fine?

On top of this, people I'd never met before put me under and breathed for me for 3 hours. I knew their first names and the roles they played in this process. I knew that the nurse anesthetist was married to a man much older than her who used to be a doctor at the hospital. I know this because we engaged in small talk as she put the IV in my hand. We could have talked about gardens and I would have known less.

About the anesthesiologist, I knew only that he had kind eyes and a corny sense of humor. Good traits in a fellow human but not exactly the qualities you ask about in the man who's going to be putting you under general anesthesia in a few minutes. Yet I just laid back quietly and let them do it.

I guess what struck me about all of it was how in this, a potentially life or death situation, I handed over my trust relatively easily. But in other situations where the stakes are much less, I withhold my trust.

Why did I do this? Because they were experts, I suppose. The less I know about something the more I have to rely on someone else to know and do it for me. It's why I say OK when the mechanic tells me that he has to fix my cracked head gaskets. How the hell do I know if the head gaskets are cracked? I have to trust people's credentials. And word of mouth. The nurse who checked me in said that my doctor was one of two she would recommend for my particular surgery. Which is fortunate, given that I was headed into the operating room with this guy.

I also trusted because I had to. Something had to be done that I couldn't do myself. So I could either mistrust and do nothing or trust and get the problem handled. My husband and I actually argued about this. He doesn't trust doctors on principle. He asks a lot of questions and tends to irritate them. But at some point you just have to let go, I told him. At some point you have to trust someone.

And maybe that's the other thing with me. I trust because I want to believe in people's inherent goodness and competence. I want to make that leap of faith, so I'd rather trust than not. Maybe not always the smartest thing in the world, but I think I'd rather live my life that way. It feels like there's a lot of mistrust in the world and that maybe we need to balance out those scales.

Anyway, this is what I've been thinking about. . . I feel like I should end with some sort of pithy little lesson. But I don't really have one. This is more of an observational post I guess.

For those who want something more practical on issues of trust, though, this may help--The Trust Matters blog.  I discovered them when they emailed me a few days ago to say that they were featuring one of my posts in their July Carnival of Trust. A quick read showed some other interesting articles on building trust in all kinds of relationships--business, personal, etc.

Also--thanks to everyone who emailed or commented re: my surgery. I really appreciate your thoughts and good wishes. They must have worked. I'm doing well and hope to be back in the work saddle on Monday.


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Good to see you back on your "virtual" feet.

I think you hit the nail on the head: sometimes your only choice is to trust someone, such as with surgeons and car mechanics. But the key thing you mention that resonates very strongly with how I feel is "I'd rather live my life that way". Spot on!

I tend to believe in the power of positive thinking; the thoughts that go round in your head will influence how you feel and - ultimately - also how others will perceive you. If distrusting people is your basic attitude in life, you will miss out on tons of opportunities to be surprised. You can see beautiful examples of trust with your kids: if you trust your kids to come up with solutions to problems they might face and if they know that you trust them, they will always pick the right solution. Trust gives them some sort of extra power, I think.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on trust.


First of all, glad you're doing well.

Second, what a great post. You have perfectly described just about all aspects of how trust really works in the real world.

It isn't just one thing. It isn't just credentials, or credibility; it isn't just a track record; it isn't just small talk and intimacy. It's all those things, and it's also an intuition that the other person cares.

Trust is a rich phenomenon. The best way to learn about it is to read someone who honestly describes how it works, as you just did. (The next best may be to go to my blog and website, as you so graciously suggest. But only after studying what you've written).

Thanks and best wishes,
Charlie Green

Thanks for the comments, Frank and Charles.

Frank--I agree completely that you will attract to you the energy you put into the world and that when you distrust everyone and everything, then you will be treated accordingly. Strangely, in other venues my husband believes in this "law of attraction." But when it comes to people hurting his wife, not so much. :-)

Charles, what you point out, I think, is that something like trust is not easily deconstructed. It's more than the sum of its parts (i.e., credibility, small talk, etc.) There's something deeply intuitive and synergistic about the feeling that comes from all of the interactions you have with someone. In the end, what you have to go with is your gut feeling that the person you're dealing with is trustworthy and that's a feeling that is made up of some really complex, deeply connected impressions and emotions.

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