Should you trust anyone? This thought has always divided opinion. Shakespeare told us to, love all, trust a few. As children we naturally trust, yet we are always wary of the fear of being disappointed. Society is never constant and over many years attitudes have developed, changed and moved.
A society without trust breaks down losing its essential cohesiveness. Trust is at the centre of our lives. It seems so obvious yet in the 1980s it was being eroded.
Then Margaret Thatcher was leading a drive for smaller government telling us to take personal responsibility for our lives. We were told that we needed to look after ourselves and not rely on anyone else. It was winner take all and all losers were simply losers.
Business translated this feeling into competition was everything and you didn’t trust anyone. Trust someone and soon they will double cross you. It was not a great set of social values.
Thankfully, as we moved through the Millennium society and business moved away from its extremes, and the importance of Corporate Social Responsibility became understood. Today there is a growing awareness of gender pay equality, the important role of business to take care of the environment and the need to support and build communities.
I remember earlier times when accountants, bank managers, politicians and other professionals were trusted explicitly. Those times have long gone as each has eroded the trust we place in them. Bank managers have become salesmen, accountants have sided with big business rather than honesty, and worst of all politicians have been exposed as cheats, liars and self-centred narcissists.
While the big picture changes, individuals try to fit in and work with their own values. For me, not-trusting, never came naturally.
It was not just that I had been brought up in a loving and trusting family, but I played sport where trust in your teammates is paramount. When you line up right in the middle of a rugby scrum, a place for the darkest of dark arts, suspended with arms locked around your props, you learn quickly that survival and victory are based on an absolute trust in all those around you.
It was also around the same time, with Annie we were just starting our own family. Little children have a natural trust in their parents who are the source of all security.
My natural inclination and my default setting have always been to trust first and, as Ernest Hemingway said, the best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them. It was not always easy and as you expect there were moments when my trust was cruelly tested.
The biggest change in my own approach came when, in 2012, I was alone in Dubai and reflecting on the whys of life and concluded that I didn’t like the businesses which, as a consultant, I was supposed to be supporting. They were still far too rapacious than I could take. I would never change them, but I could change. This was the trigger that changed my life.
I stopped consulting and took up writing, full time. I stopped propping up and supporting businesses that didn’t meet my new standards. I accept now I was probably too idealistic and harsh in execution but I needed to make a statement.
Equally, I was as hard on all those business acquaintances I called friends. Unless I saw sincerity and concern, I just stopped speaking to them. Generally, I judged it right because as I drifted away, hardly any called. Of course, they may have thought of me then as high maintenance!
Business training tells us to keep our business and personal lives separate. The talk is all about work-life balance. In those Dubai days, I realised this is all rubbish. You can’t be a different person at work and home and no more so than with how you trust and love.
The Scottish author, George McDonald got it right: To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved. Love and trust are inexorably linked and are two sides of the same coin. You can’t truly love without deeply trusting your partner.
I say this as someone who has been in a loving, long distant relationship for the last five years. Sasha is beautiful and far away. I could drive myself mad with unfounded jealousy thinking about what she might be doing, but I am calm. I have as much trust as I have love.
Once I would have thought differently. Trust and love are intertwined with jealousy. Songwriters and poets understand Remember the song? I wonder who’s kissing her now. Wonder who’s teaching her how. Wonder who’s looking into her eyes. I wonder who’s buying the wine. For lips that I used to call mine. I wonder who’s kissing her now.
Of course, there are days when I am tested and my insecurity can surface and when it does I can still hear Harry Nielsen singing this song and wonder but …. trust is the basis of love. When I have those moments, I reach down and reset my resolve first and foremost to trust. Nietzsche said it best: I won’t be upset that you lied to me but upset that from now on I can’t believe you.
But those are for days that will never come. Sasha and I have total trust before we have love.
This does have a business context. Work-life balance is a fiction and romantic love is not an emotion that can be carried into a working life. But, trust is very much part of work and there are parallels you can draw to the way you treat your employees and customers.
Not only aren’t they the enemy but you can treat them as part of your family and trust them. If you can love them for being who they are, trust them, then the love and trust will be reciprocated. Treat everyone well and for once disagree with Shakespeare and love all, trust all (at least to start with).
Trust those you work with, trust your customers and trust those you love.