Monday, December 18, 2006

Trust Revisited

I recently had a really bad experience that’s causing me to rethink my position on trust. Someone I’d known for a couple years and who seemed to be a person of depth, intelligence and integrity proved to be shallow, ignorant and, well, sleazy.

I’m a pretty good judge of character, so this surprised me. I’m also someone who trusts instinctively. Trusting people isn’t so much a choice on my part as a natural predisposition. This is kind of ironic, actually, since I don’t suffer fools gladly and I tend to have a short fuse for stupidity and unreliability. But with people I’ve come to know even a little, my going-in assumption is that they’ll prove to be great. This has always come in handy. Colleagues, subordinates, bosses, people in general react well to being assumed to be capable and decent and intelligent. Oh, sure, a few people proved over time to be anything but capable and decent and intelligent, but on the whole I find I get what I give.

Since my recent very bad experience, though, I’m wondering if there’s a point earlier along the road when it would make sense to stop resolving doubts in favor of trust. When I look back on it, my recent experience started heading the wrong direction long before I recognized what was happening. It’s not that I didn’t notice the dissonance, the out-of-character factoids, the occasional odd behavior. I did notice them, but because the person in question was someone I thought I knew – and whom I held in pretty high regard – I gave her the benefit of the doubt. I chose to see the out-of-character behavior as anomalous, figured she was having a bad day or some other temporary problem. This seems like the right way to treat friends and colleagues; it’s certainly the way I want to be treated. One dissonant note in a collection of harmonious notes shouldn’t ruin the symphony.

Now, though, I’m wondering if I could have saved myself from the full weight of the bad experience if I’d stopped trusting her sooner. Well, clearly I could have saved myself some aggravation and disappointment if I’d done that, so I guess what I’m really wondering is whether I should have done it. Even if I’ve decided to stick with trust as my going-in assumption, should I decide to see dissonant occurrences as signs of disaster to come rather than temporary anomalies – and, possibly, stop trusting my friends and colleagues sooner?