The Origins Of Trust

My father keeps repeating this phrase, “Trust is what keeps the world going”. I’ve been at the receiving end of this phrase for over 3 decades now. I always wondered about the furnace that forges trust in humankind.

I read this post by @z3nblack where they talk about 7 tenets which are central to their philosophy. The last of these tenets talks about trust. “Show trust. Everyone else will show you a contract “. They expand on this tenet in a blog post. It’s a great one. Do look it up.

This post on the origins of trust may never have been possible if not for three things:

  • that phrase from my father,
  • the two blogposts by @z3nblack, and finally
  • a book recommendation by a dear friend – @TinkeredThinker (More about the book later on).

For the past few months, the mystery about the origins of trust kept gnawing at me. I searched for the acorn where trust took seed and grew to be the oak in a relationship.

I was talking about this with @TinkeredThinker on Twitter. He directed me towards the Dunbar Number, which made things a little transparent. Human relationships are best kept personal when they range from 150 to 300 people. Within this subset, relationships between people hold and trust is implicit. What happens when we go beyond Dunbar’s Number? What is the glue that hodls trust? What if the two parties are corporations? Being a business owner, this has always intrigued me.

“Trust” is a crucial attribute and also a strength for a company. I’ve realized this in 13 years of experience – of being a business owner. Trust from all parties the organization engages with. Trust from its customers, from its vendors, from its employees, from the government, and trust from the society it operates in. Trust is the cause of a successful business, not the consequence of a successful one. When you incorporate trust in whatever you’re doing, it permeates and fills up everything else around it.

Where I’ve personally seen trust to hold firm ground, I’ve seen contracts take a beating. Why do so many relationships based on contracts fail? Why not the ones founded on trust?

When I want to understand why/ when things work, I first try to figure out why/ when they don’t. I then try to fit the pieces together. I tried doing the same with trust and contracts too.

One reason why a contract fails is the lack of implicit trust between interested parties. Again H/T to @z3nblack‘s post for this. A contract screams – “I don’t trust you, you don’t trust me, and hence we have this piece of paper so we can each save our ass.” When you build a relationship on the premise of No Skin In The Game, there will be no skin in the game. It becomes a question of saving your own skin when the forest is up in flames. I have experienced this first hand. When customers send us a Non-Disclosure Agreement, to begin with, they focus on the document instead of the product. The relationship doesn’t even move a few paces from there even after signing it. The most successful business relationships are the ones that start with a conversation – “Where do you hail from?”, “Since how long have you been in this business?”, or “You’re doing this for the past 30 years?”. The underlying premise here is to build a relationship based on trust and not on paper. When partners enter into a relationship – especially a business one – you must see it as a game in which everyone wins. Contracts try to bring a one-upmanship to the game saying, “You do this, I’m setting your hair on fire!”, and no one likes that.

Contracts also fail because the world we live in and operate is dynamic, whereas a contract is static. It is not flexible. Bruce Lee’s famous quote “Be like water” comes to mind. To be able to withstand, and adapt to change like water is absent in a contract. Interested parties only revisit a contract with a fixed time frame. There is a strong likelihood for things to go wrong in between revisions. And when it does, everyone will be left sucking their thumbs when the cards fall apart. Millions have experienced this in the aftermath of the pandemic.

But what if you choose to build a relationship on trust instead? When this happens, you will see people go out of the way to ensure that bridges are built no matter what. Even if people on the other side are helpless and can do nothing but watch.

I was able to figure out this much after racking my head on trust and contracts. But still, I felt something amiss. I had this unbearable itch to complete the puzzle with the missing pieces.

I came across this tweet by Tinkered Thinker recommending “Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Pirsig. TT suggested this as one of those life-changing books.

I couldn’t wait to dig into it. If you haven’t read it, I recommend you read it. It is my current read. In a particular instance, the author refuses to consult psychiatrists for his son Chris because he thinks, “…they can’t have real kindness toward him, they’re not his…”.

Eureka! The final piece of the jigsaw. Kindness! That’s was it.

When you are kind towards someone you offer them your trust, and in exchange, you gain their confidence too. Kindness and trust – as its consequence – are a two-way street. One person takes the first step, and the other person also walks an equal distance. Kindness is the acorn which carries inklings of trust. The word kindness I learnt has its roots in “kin” which means someone of your own. When you feel that you belong and others belong to you and with you, you are kind to them. Also, when you are kind to others and win their trust, contracts do not matter. Consequently, the two instances where agreements may fail, dissolve in the face of kindness. Over time, when you build Trust the need for a contractual obligation vanishes. You are aware that things will go wrong and once you see the opposite party as your own, mistakes can be overseen too. Kindness is a miracle worker of sorts.

In a relationship when someone is your own, you never let them down. You stand up for them. You stand up with them.

Be kind.

Trust people.

The world needs you to do both.

Cover Photo by Jannis Lucas on Unsplash

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