Rebirth of Reason


Trust and Betrayal
by Joseph Rowlands

One of the most significant means of achieving values is through cooperation with others. We rely on others in all kinds of ways. We gain information from them so we can act in an informed way. We get second opinions from them, so we can add some assurance that our analysis is correct. We rely on them in business or other projects, to share part of the workload and contribute to the overall results.


So one very big concern is whether or not we can count on them. Can we trust them? Will they follow through on what they promise? Is the information they provide true? Will they act in a way that allows each of us to gain?


Trust is a very delicate thing. We can offer a small amount of trust to a stranger. The intent is to open the possibility for future positive interactions, and you have to start somewhere. As they prove their reliability and commitment to being trustworthy, it makes sense to increase trust. With more trust means more kinds of interactions. If you find someone trustworthy, you could start a business, rely on them to supply parts or service for your own business, take care of your house while you're on vacation, or any number of other possibilities.


But while it can take a long time to build trust, it takes very little to destroy it. This is because trust allows us to predict that we can have a positive interaction with someone without them betraying us and invalidating our efforts. If someone does betray your trust, you can no longer expect them to fulfill their obligations, be honest, or act appropriately.


One of the foundations of trust is the idea that we have shared interests. If you go into business with someone, you expect that he will recognize your own interests, follow up on his obligations, and otherwise satisfy your trust. They act appropriately because they recognize your shared interests. They find interacting with you beneficial to their own lives, and consequently will make sure to sustain your trust.


When someone betrays your trust, you realize he doesn't see it the same way. He views his interests as being in conflict with yours. He has decided to act in his own interests at your expense. While there is no necessary conflict of interests between rational people, his actions show that he doesn't believe it, and has created a conflict because of that belief.


In future interactions, you can't trust that he will not betray you again. When he does it once, it shows that he is willing to sacrifice you for some personal gain. He values that gain more than his continued relationship with you. And worse, if you do decide to trust him again, he may conclude that there's no real threat of consequences in the future. That will make him even more likely to betray you in the future.


Trust is dependent on a harmony of interests. Once the harmony breaks down and a conflict is created, the trust goes with it. You can't count on someone who is willing to harm you for his own short-sighted gain. To trust him any one would be an act of self-destruction.


This is why trust is so significant. Betraying someone's trust effectively destroys that relationship. It may also destroy or impair relationships with other people. If they find out that you're the type to violate trust and betray people for personal gains, they will also be wise to avoid trusting you.


When the trust disappears, you also lose the opportunities and benefits that go with it. A trusting relationship can allow each party to call upon the other to help out in an emergency, or when there's a problem that needs to be solved. Trust also allows people to join together on more complex and potentially profitable projects. And trust is a requirement for a deep and caring friendship or romance. A violation of trust destroys all of these.


Trust is a value. Trust is something you can act to gain and keep. You can earn people's trust, and provide solid reasons for them to trust you. You can also avoid actions that would diminish trust, or destroy it entirely. It is something you can plan for, and put effort into.


The effects of trust are substantial, and it is important to recognize it. There may be times where you are tempted to betray someone's trust because taking a particular course of action seems to lead to better results. But when you consider the significance of trust, you will usually see the costs are much higher than originally thought.


If you do end up violating someone's trust, whether intentionally or not, is it possible to make up for it? If someone violates your trust, when should you forgive them? Some people view forgiveness as a kind of virtue, and suggest you should always forgive. But if they acted against your interests for personal gain, you should not allow them to do it again in the future. You should not trust them.


It may be possible that they can repair the damage done. They could apologize for the action, and assure you it won't happen again. They can repair the damage by compensating you for your lose and giving up all of their gain. By giving up what they gained, they can express that their original valuation was wrong, and that your relationship means much more to you then the gains they achieved by hurting you. And of course any real apology should include an admission of what they did wrong and an explanation of why it was wrong.


Even with a genuine apology, you are not obligated to trust them. You were never obligated to trust them in the first place, and now that you have evidence to show that they are unreliable, you have reason to not trust them. Even if you believe they are genuinely sorry for their action, you may believe that if tempted again, they may betray you once more. Or you may just not be willing to find out. There are many people in the world, with many potential opportunities for positive interaction. It may be better to look elsewhere.

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