Who can I trust?

On December 13, 2020, George Schultz turned 100. In an article in The Washington Post around the same time, Schultz, a former U.S. secretary of labor, treasury and state, described the 10 most important things he learned about trust over the course of his life.

Here it is in a nutshell: “I’ve learned much over time, but looking back, I’m struck that there is one lesson I learned early and then relearned over and over: Trust is the coin of the realm. When trust was in the room, whatever room that was — the family room, the schoolroom, the locker room, the office room, the government room or the military room — good things happened. When trust was not in the room, good things did not happen.”

I could end this Viewsletter right here, letting Schultz’s words carry the day. But there is more to say.

What is trust really about?

To appreciate what trust is all about, it’s useful to consider similar words that amplify its meaning, as well as its opposites. Here are a few of each…

What trust implies: acceptance, belief, integrity, faith, genuineness, responsibility

Opposites of trust: impede, uncertainty, obstruct, doubt, disbelief, irresponsibility.

Against this backdrop, it’s no wonder Schultz calls trust the coin the realm. Trust is the invisible river that carries the mountain-fresh waters we all need to irrigate our relationships, allowing them to flourish. There are basically two kinds of trust: Big Trust and Small Trust. Big Trust is what does or doesn’t occur between groups like politically and culturally separate tribes, or government agencies, or nations. Big Trust makes headlines. Small Trust is what happens — or not — between you and me. No headlines, yet that is where all trust begins.

There are different levels of Small Trust, each of which carries an increasing degree of significance. Examples:

Who can I trust to paint my house so it looks great? Important? Sure, but not life-critical.

Who can I trust to babysit my three-year-old daughter Saturday night? Here, who you trust starts to matter a lot.

Who can I trust to care for my ailing father? This decision, of course, may well be life-critical and makes trust essential.

There is one more level where Small Trust is at its most personal and, maybe even, consequential in terms of forging relationships with others. It can be stated like this:

Who can I trust will want what I have to give? Not ‘give’ in any conventional sense such as money, time, food, or even love. What I’m referring to here is that unique difference you are capable of making, which distinguishes you from all others — your identity. Finding people who will want the fruits of your identity takes a bit of courage, because it means telling people in plain words who you are at your core; in short, why you are here. It means being vulnerable.

Who is in your ‘club’?

We all live in a ‘relationships universe’ that includes family, friends, co-workers and others who are integral to our lives. Finding those people who will want what you have to give (and whose gift you will want, in return) means sorting through this universe with the aim of identifying the right candidates. You will know, instinctively, who they are likely to be. You will also probably know who they are not.

Each of us has an inner identity circle composed of those few people who will indeed want what you have to give, and will cherish it. Among them, you are the only permanent member of that circle, which means you have to start by trusting yourself.

Big Trust comes from Small Trust. The opposite is impossible.

In The Washington Post article, Schultz closes by saying: “’In God we trust.’ And when we are at our best, we also trust in each other. Trust is fundamental, reciprocal and, ideally, pervasive. If it is present, anything is possible. If it is absent, nothing is possible.”

Nothing Big. Nothing Small. Nothing.

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