Rupert Baxter stared hard at them through his rimless spectacles. In assuming that he suspected them, Lord Ickenham had guessed absolutely correctly. But he needn’t have wondered what had given them away. The Efficient Baxter suspected everybody. He did not suspect them of this or that particular crime. He simply suspected them.
— P. G. Wodehouse, Uncle Fred in the Springtime (probably quoted imperfectly, as it is from memory)
I think good people are far too trusting. There is a deplorable lack of discretion nowadays. People meet someone who seems nice and immediately take him at face value. They trust him as soon as they know him. Well, you might be saying, isn’t that right? Isn’t it kind and loving to think well of people? Surely, your first reaction to any new acquaintance shouldn’t be a black distrust, an immediate suspicion? Shouldn’t you try to like people?
I don’t think so. I think it’s kind of foolish, actually.
If you think about it, the Bible doesn’t command us to trust people. It says to be wise and discerning. It says to choose your friends well. And you cannot do this by skipping about throwing kisses to perfect strangers and saying, “I love everybody!” All wrong. You should strive for nothing less than having a true and accurate impression of everybody you know. It’s not about “love.” It’s about truth.
Trust is, I think, terribly mis-defined. Trust is regarded as a virtue. The general opinion is that if you are trustworthy yourself, it is then natural for you to trust everybody else you meet.
People think that being very trusting is a good thing. But do you know what I think? I think trusting people are silly! And I’ll tell you why: trusting people like to bestow their trust on everyone, including liars and thieves. They assume that the world is a charming place to live and that we can all get along if we just learn to have a little more faith in each other. And they also assume — this is the most dangerous assumption of them all — that you can transform someone untrustworthy by placing faith in him. Their attitude is, “If you don’t trust someone, he becomes untrustworthy. If you do trust him, he becomes trustworthy!” Now, it is true that small children who are constantly given a message that nobody trusts them usually turn out rotten. Giving your trust to a child is not even remotely dangerous and may reap great rewards. A child who knows he is trusted will probably turn out much nicer than one who is constantly informed that he is a nasty little blight on society and will never be any good. However, once a child reaches the age of about fifteen or sixteen, he learns to use the mistaken trust of others to his advantage. Trust ceases to have the power to move him and becomes a tool he may use to accomplish his ends. Untrustworthy people, once they become adults, are usually apt to stay that way. That is why you can’t trust them. That is downright dangerous. It is a harsh truth, but it has to be said: some people will never be honorable. You can’t save them by giving them the trust they don’t deserve. Those people will take advantage of that sort of behavior. They won’t be shamed into being better. Why do you think you can fix them? Better men than you have tried and failed. You’re not God.
My definition of trust is this: when you give your trust to someone, you are saying, “I believe in you. I have faith that you are a good person. I am placing confidence in you not to hurt me or my family. I trust that you care about my well-being and will not attempt to manipulate me. I am certain that your heart is pure and unblemished and that if you had the chance to harm or steal from me you would not take it. I know for a fact that your intentions are not to hurt me or anyone I love, and I know for sure that you are always telling me the truth.”
The reason that I do not trust everyone I meet (indeed, I rarely trust anyone upon first acquaintance) is that not everyone is trustworthy. I believe in gaining an accurate perception of somebody’s character before I place my emotional well-being in his hands. There are liars in this world. They live on every street in every town in America. And by definition a liar is not to be trusted. And also by definition, a liar is hard to spot. They do not present an accurate picture of themselves. Liars often look much sweeter, funnier, or nicer than the rest of us. Most of them are quite brilliant and flawless actors and thus are able to become whoever they want to be at the drop of a hat. And do you want to know something else about liars? Their intentions are never pure. Nobody’s going to consistently lie to you and manipulate you for the good of your health. They mean you ill.
Of course, that is not what all untrustworthy people are going to look like. They do not all have that single-minded commitment to deceit. Some of them are kind of nice, but they don’t really care. That kind of person is going to play negligently with you. They may not hurt you on purpose, but they are careless with their actions. They will betray you without really meaning to and not be sorry enough for it afterwards. They don’t wish you ill, but they don’t wish you well. And there are the people who are just plain bad news. They aren’t out to get you, indeed they may genuinely like you and want to be your friend, but they are not good people. They break the law and things like that, and they try to rope you in. They are a bad influence. And we certainly can’t have that!
One argument for being trusting — this one is so silly I almost scorn to mention it — is that whether or not you place faith in someone is a reflection of your own trustworthiness. People say, “Ah! You don’t trust people— maybe that’s because people can’t trust YOU.” This is downright ridiculous. It’s nonsense. Baloney. The reasoning behind this is that some think most people assume the rest of the world is just like them. They say that if you see a flaw in someone else you must have that flaw yourself, else how would you have been able to spot it? I hope you are joining me in derisive laughter. Of course you don’t need to have a problem to notice it in someone else! That’s like saying you have to be blind to tell if someone else is. We are intelligent enough to recognize something we haven’t experienced for ourselves. I will never say that someone who does not readily trust people must be dishonest himself. I will commend that fellow, rather, for being discerning! (It is true that dishonest people don’t really trust others, but that does not mean that everyone who does not trust people is dishonest. That's a logical fallacy called... I think it's called "part-to-whole.")
Someone once said to me, “I need a reason not to trust people. You, on the other hand, have to have a reason before you trust people.” She was not complimenting me. But I said to myself, “Well, why not?” Trust is not something you ought to be giving out left and right. It is valuable and should only be in the possession of those who have thoroughly earned it. It is, in effect, placing your life, heart, and emotional well-being in someone’s hands. My advice to you is not to trust everyone, but to get to know them. Don’t trust those who don’t deserve it. I cannot say this enough. In fact, I will say it again: NEVER. TRUST. SOMEONE. WHO. DOES. NOT. DESERVE. IT. You may have noticed that I bolded, italicized, and capitalized those last words. That was an effort to drive them into your skull. Please, please, please, please, please be careful with your trust. Look at someone’s reputation, at the report others give of him. Don’t go around blithely assuming people are lovely and nice and that if you trust them everything will be fine and dandy. That is so, so dangerous. Gaining an accurate, truthful picture of someone's character is far more important (and connendable!) than trusting him.
Trust is not a virtue. Discernment is.