We are a strange society and when I say “we,” I mean all of us.  Me, you, your sister, your brother’s college roommate’s nephew, everyone.  And when I say that, it’s not because I want to denigrate anyone or raise the suspicion that no one is normal, but in fact, this level of weirdness is normal.  While I am the same way, it perplexes me why this is so.

So what am I talking about?  It is the way every person in society deals with trust.  On three separate occasions this week I was struck with how completely bass-ackwards we as a society are when it comes to trust.

We trust when we really shouldn’t and we fail to trust when we have every indication that trust is appropriate.  Really?  Huh?
Earlier this week I handled a transaction whereby a shareholder in a company was being bought out by his partners.  By all accounts it was a fairly straightforward deal in which payment for the shares was given and certain books and records were delivered in return.  Simple, clean, zero complexities.  In fact, when it came time to negotiate the definitive documents, the discussions were congenial and cooperative, with very little aggressiveness.  My client, however, believed that disaster was imminent.  He was of the firm and utter belief that the other side, the people with whom he had done business with and was partners with for years, was not trustworthy.  Nothing about the transaction gave me pause for concern, yet my client was adamant that these people could not be trusted.

The second instance was a settlement that blew up between two parties after the documents had been signed.  The terms were discussed and negotiated and documents executed and yet, despite the fact that adequate safeguards were in place in the event of a breach, one side felt that she could not trust the other side and she called the deal off.  This deal, by the way, was between two individuals who had been in business together for over a year.

Trust is a funny, fickle thing and one which cannot be defined.  We have to trust; it is a requirement for daily interaction, yet it is incomprehensible.  Why is it that we sometimes have difficulty trusting business partners or spouses or contracting parties, yet we freely and blindly trust the people who make our food and fly our airplanes and drive along-side us on the freeway?

What brought these thoughts to the forefront of my psyche this week?  I mentioned above that there were three instances this week where trust became an issue.  The third hit very close to home; we sometimes have to place our most treasured possessions into the hands of strangers.  This week we interviewed nannies, people who would come into our home and take care of our daughters.  I struggle so mightily with the task of selecting a stranger in whom I will place my greatest trust.  And yet I feel no trepidation when I eat at a restaurant or fly on an airplane or go to the emergency room.  Any one of those could affect my health or even take my life from me, however I unreservedly trust these people I have never met and, perhaps under different circumstances, wouldn’t trust with my wallet and five bucks inside of it.  Why, why why?

The only thing I could come up with is actually very silly.  We trust because we have to.  We are an “out of sight, out of mind” people.  If we don’t know the people involved and if we don’t see them at work, then we trick ourselves into believing that the world is good and people are good. 

So why do we sometimes have trouble trusting our closest relations and those who we have in the past trusted so intimately?

I am going to think this one through some more and maybe I will have some ideas for next week.  What I can do, though, is this:  work to be more trustworthy right now.  If I can’t trust other people, the least I can do is make it so other people don’t have the same concern about me.


Twitter:  robcohen13