What Is Trust?

I’ve always had difficulty approaching the idea of trust from a Zen perspective. Trust relies on a certain attachment. It is a bet people place on other people, expecting them to uphold a certain code of conduct. This code can be easily broken by virtue of the fact that it varies among people and is never constant.

Still, trust is a simple concept. If you establish your expectations and they’re broken, you lose trust. If your expectations are upheld, you’re good to go (per se). Where we run into trouble is in staking too much happiness on these expectations.

To have expectations to begin with sets you up for dissonance and disappointment. A certain amount is normal, but don’t expect to avoid suffering. We can’t all become monks, and we must choose our attachments wisely.

And so, the unfortunate truth of the matter:

You can’t really trust anyone with full confidence. People may generally behave in a trustworthy manner, but the more you invest your sense of well-being in a trust-based situation, the worse you’ll suffer if the bottom falls out. Human relationships are so complicated that this is bound to happen sooner or later. So it goes.

Benign as they may be, most relationships are, to varying extents, codependent relationships. Social life has taught us to rely on others, to “network” with friends, and to act on a notion of love and affection that is less natural than it is culturally conditioned. There is a pure form of love that exists in the world, and it exists outside any realm of jealousy, dishonesty, or breach of trust. The more that love is commodified and acculturated, the less likely we are to experience love in its purer forms.

Most people have been put in situations where a sense of trust or reliance has been compromised. What can we learn from these experiences? To begin with, we can recognize our own role in our suffering.

If I trust someone and they fail at upholding that trust, and I become hurt, I am certainly partially to blame. I made the choice to trust that person. I put my happiness in the hands of an external variable. This usually leads to trouble alongside great bliss. That’s just how it goes. People will lie, cheat and steal. It’s in their nature. What is referred to as “bad” human behavior is the requisite for the good. We can’t expect happiness or love without sadness and hate, unless we transcend these notions and simply experience the world and trust its inner-workings, rather than pick and choose which squares to throw our chips of faith at.

And so failures of trust lead me to one conclusion, really: stop investing yourself in things that are outside of your control. You can’t control other people. You can’t force the world to do what you want it to do. When you suffer, use the experience as a catalyst for growth. No feeling is final. You can take a gamble on an external thing, but don’t be surprised when it disappoints you. That’s life. Take it or leave it.


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