A climactic moment in the first of Peter Jackson’s cinematic versions of J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, comes when Boromir tries to take The Ring of Power from Frodo. In his home country, Gondor, men recognized Boromir as a courageous man and someone in whom they could place complete trust. Even after pledging his allegiance to Frodo and to the destruction of the Ring, however, we find Boromir breaking his promise. Why?
Mutual trust is foundational to every healthy relationship. It’s so ingrained, we hardly give it much thought, and we tend to go with our gut instinct. But I would argue that we should pay more attention to what, who, and how we build trust in our relationships.
Our level of trust in someone depends on answering three questions:
1) Who is this person?
2) Are they trustworthy?
3) Are their intentions benevolent (acting for our good)?
To answer the first question, we look at the person’s background, interests, how they feel, and what they think. While all this information has value, when it comes to trust, what we’re really looking for are the person’s beliefs, values, and a better understanding of their character. How we view others passes through the lens of our personal values and spirituality. Do you seek to think like Christ, or do you use something else as a standard?
How we answer the second question is less clear. Does this person act responsibly? Do they show respect, not only toward you but also toward everyone they meet? Do their actions match what they say? Trustworthiness is both a matter of integrity and relational competence.
Getting to the bottom of the third question might prove the most difficult of all, for it requires making a judgment about what motivates our friend. Unfortunately, you can’t only rely on what the other person tells you, and manipulative people may at times appear to act in our interest when the person they most care about is themselves. We have to look at their behavior and what their actions tell us about what drives them. Benevolence comes in a variety of forms, ranging from a disinterested, generalized sense of good will, to empathy and caring, to the strongest position of Christ-like sacrificial love.
Our discovery usually begins with dialogue— a give and take process fed by genuine interest. Not all conversation needs to be deep, but we should continue to seek a deeper understanding of the other person. Not everyone is adept at this kind of interchange or finds it comfortable. We learn the most when the speaker is self-revealing and transparent, and the listener truly listens.
We observe how people behave, reflect on what they say and do, and then discern meaning and our response. Some of us readily give others the benefit of the doubt, while for others, suspicion and skepticism rule. Our previous experiences will influence our approach.
Don’t forget that trust goes both ways. Do we exhibit what we seek in others?
Christ calls us to love others, not only in our mind or in speech but in action. It is through our efforts that we prove the integrity of what we say and our real intent.
Children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and truth. I John 3:18 NABRE
A fundamental orientation toward trust is a good thing, but our confidence in others should not be blind. We should exercise wisdom and discernment.
Beloved, do not trust every spirit but test the spirits to see whether they belong to God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. I John 4:1 NABRE
Be alert to the tendency to make quick pre-judgments about others, as it can lead us to trust or reject someone prematurely.
My brothers, show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. James 2:1 NABRE
You might take some time to consider the following questions:
- How do you gather information about others’ values and character? What do you look for and how do you decide what is accurate and reliable? Do you take shortcuts that could skew your view?
- What do you appreciate in others and why? Do you value virtue and holiness?
- How do you resolve value conflicts? For example, who would you trust more: Someone who shows loyalty toward you regardless of the moral consequences or someone who will speak the truth even when it means creating tension with you?
- Are you struggling with a relationship right now, or is there someone in your life who others feel may be a bad influence? Could there be a problem with trust in this relationship?
- Are you trustworthy? Don’t be too quick to dismiss this question. Take a hard look at your actions.
- How would you rate your benevolence toward others: As a generalized feeling of goodwill, genuine caring and empathy, or Christ-like love?
Building on Trust is part of a series of articles on relationships and the Christian faith.