Absolute Trust?

The first trustworthy article on promises and dependability generated a lot of off-line conversation. Here’s one of the most interesting threads from a few brilliant friends:

I’m thinking trustworthiness is never absolute, highly contextual, and probably rarely enduring. – JT

I think you are correct. There are reliable people who are not trustworthy. In fact, I can imagine situations where one could set a watch by how reliably predictable ‘untrustworthy’ people are. I wonder if the converse is true – Can someone be trustworthy without being reliable or is it a prerequisite?

It just seems as if someone is trustworthy if you are willing to put your trust in them in any multitude of ways (and it could be just one way, like, I have a very trustworthy mechanic and I put my trust in his ability to consistently, fairly, and competently fix my car and charge me a fair amount, etc.), but that same person has the power to, at any point in time, break that trust. Similarly, one may be trustworthy to some, but not to others. So it seems odd to attempt to place the label on a person as a characteristic rather than on a relationship at a point in time, or on a trend in regards to a specific kind of action over time (e.g. the mechanic). – JT

I don’t think trustworthiness is an absolute, so if you lie once in your entire life then you’re untrustworthy, that kind of interpretation is an impossible standard. So going forward we tend to think of things in absolutes, and it just does not work with how people really are. Also, you are looking at something that is the definition of subjective. Take the example of a secret, if the person keeps a secret of mine are they trustworthy? Too me, yes. Now that secret applies to you, but this person will not tell you. So in one example you have a person who is simultaneously building trust with me and eroding it with you. -CV

I love that example. By extrapolation, trust is subjective but can be calculated implicitly by matching values against values. I wonder if it’s possible to trust someone who holds values anti-ethical to my own? If not, does a lack of trustworthiness merely indicate a difference of values?

Yes I can trust someone with ethics counter to my own, but here’s the rub, when I think about it I’m not sure how I come to that conclusion. Is it the person I’m trusting or is it that I trust what the person will do or say based on their own ethical stance. If it’s the latter then given enough knowledge of a persons ethos then I can trust anyone.

Also, we tend to compartmentalize our trust in people. Take a hacker for example, you’re not going to trust him with your PC but they are going to be the first people to look for when putting together a tiger team to test a networks security. We actually break our trust down into the segments of a person we find appealing. – CV

What are your thoughts on Absolute Trust? Share in the comments below.

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