Review and Preview

A few weeks ago I explored self-trust. Until I wrote that piece, I had not realized how deeply I distrusted myself. (As a writer, I find nothing clarifies my thinking better than written inquiry. The process uncovers so many unconscious and hidden things.)

In that post I speculated about choosing to trust myself, as trust is a belief, and beliefs can and do change. I thought it would be interesting to consciously trust myself for a few days and see what happened.

What has happened is a profound change in my interior life and my mental health. What happened is the realization that learning to self-love, while a healing and valuable practice, was not, after all, what I most needed.

This still seems strange to me. We are certainly taught love is the greatest feeling, the closest to the Divine we can come, the best we can be as human beings. We define love endlessly, discuss it, long for it, search for it, tell ourselves it will fix everything if only we can find someone to love, if only someone will love us completely, unconditionally, forever and ever (or at least until death do us part), amen.

But my experience has taught me love is changeable and elusive. All kinds of abuse masquerades as love. We don’t all mean the same thing when we express love.

By Marianna Smiley on Unsplash

Perhaps most heartbreaking of all, we don’t always value the love that comes our way, and we may learn to distrust it. Every master manipulator in the world recognizes the power of our need for love. Once that need is used against us, we are on our guard against love.

Love hurts. Love can endure, but a withered, starving love living on memories and perhaps based on delusions or the simple call of blood is a desolate ghost haunting our hearts. Love can scar us so deeply we’re never the same.

The daily practice of loving oneself is less complicated than loving another. At the very least, I know what I mean when I say it to myself, and my self understands my demonstration of it. Nothing is lost in translation. I can trust my own love.

And there’s that word – ‘trust’. Trust and love: does one require the other, or are they separate? One is a feeling (love), and one is a belief (trust). Both can be manipulated. In terms of our love and trust of ourselves, both are highly subject to interruption or even amputation by those who influence us, especially as children. If we are repeatedly given to understand we are not lovable or not to be trusted, we internalize those beliefs before we even have language. We don’t learn to love and trust ourselves.

Internalized beliefs are enormously powerful right up until we examine them closely, at which point they can vanish like a wisp of smoke. Once we’ve seen them as false, we become conscious of their pervasive influence and our internal structure changes in astounding ways.

This is what has happened to me.

When I set out to live a few days consciously trusting myself, I realized within an hour my obsessive and unending loop of review and preview. Just like a fish in water, I have no memory of ever living any other way, so I never noticed it before. Well, that’s not true. I noticed it, I just called it anxiety. As I’ve always been anxious and expected I always would be, I didn’t think further about it.

In an example from my childhood, when I was very young, kindergarten age, my mother had a lot of pain and was quite unhappy. I had a younger brother and we had cats and dogs. In an effort to take care of my mother, I learned how to do things like make beds, sort laundry, set up the coffee maker, make orange juice in the blender (frozen concentrate), take care of the animals, tie my own shoes and teach my brother to tie his, etc.

I vividly remember lying in my bed, my brother across the room in his bed, reviewing everything I’d done that day. I had trouble with hospital corners on the beds because I wasn’t strong enough to tuck the sheets in properly under the mattress. Mom had to bend over and do them again, so I failed to help and caused her pain. I didn’t turn a sock right side out when I sorted the laundry. I could tie my own shoes, but I was baffled trying to teach my brother to tie his while facing him. And so forth and so on.

Review: I hadn’t done it right. I hadn’t helped. I hadn’t been perfect. I hadn’t made Mom happy. I had to do better. Preview: Next time I would look at every piece of laundry, be sure nothing was inside out. Next time I would remember how to sort it properly so Mom wouldn’t have to bend down and do it herself. Next time I would figure out a way to get the hospital corners right, but I wouldn’t have to face that again for a week or so. Maybe I’d be stronger or bigger? If I got behind my brother and tied his shoes from that angle, could I do it? I had to do it! It hurt Mom to bend down.

This habit, this ongoing internal review and preview, has never stopped. Whatever I’ve just done, I review it. Whatever I’m about to do, I preview it. Racing thoughts. Circular thinking. Problems with sleep and chronic tension. Adrenal overload and exhaustion. The need to distract, to make it stop. The inability to have a quiet mind. Most of us are familiar with the symptoms of anxiety.

I believe my anxiety has been rooted in my self-distrust. When I decided to behave as though I do trust myself, I became conscious of my lifelong review and preview habit, as much a part of me as my blue eyes. At the same time, I discovered the solution. The minute I catch myself either reviewing or previewing, and it’s many, many times a day, I say, “I trust you,” to myself.

And I stop. I don’t need to review. I don’t need to preview. I did the best I could, because I always do that. I’ll do the best I can, because I always do that.

“I trust you.”

I’ve also realized, after long experience of sorting through my own psyche, this self-distrust is not mine. It doesn’t smell like me. It’s not home grown. It came from someone outside me, like so many of the unmanaged, unacknowledged emotions and beliefs I’ve carried, recognized as not mine, and let go.

By Danijel Durkovic on Unsplash

I discovered, as I wrote that post on trust, I do trust myself. I’ve always had cognitive dissonance around trust. Those around me didn’t trust me, yet I trusted myself. I trust my intuition. I trust my empathy and sensitivity, I trust my intention to do the right thing, I trust my flexibility and my ability to learn. I trust my ability to love. I trust my ability to think critically and recognize the truth, no matter how unwelcome. When I assure myself of my trust, it’s not a lie. It’s a truth buried for years under trauma.

I suspect many of us review and preview, consciously or not. It’s wholly ineffective in terms of healthy functioning. It makes us less flexible and resilient. It tires us out, creates long-term chronic stress, and is a constant no-confidence vote we give ourselves. It doesn’t make us more perfect; in fact, it does the opposite because it encourages us to be brittle and fearful. It doesn’t stop us from making mistakes. It turns us away from presence and authentic expression and towards behaving like automatons with a rigid script.

It gives us anxiety.

Most of all, reviewing and previewing doesn’t keep us safe. It doesn’t help us feel loved.

The compulsive habit of reviewing and previewing took up an extraordinary amount of space in my mind and required enormous quantities of energy and attention. Without it, I feel an internal spaciousness I’ve never had before. I read more. I write more. I can rest and relax. I’m far less driven, far more comfortable in my own skin. I’m more present and mindful in the moment, and with my feelings and my body.

I’m far less anxious.

Learning to love myself has been a gift. Reclaiming trust in myself has changed my life.

Questions:

  • Do you love yourself? If not, why?
  • Do you trust yourself? If not, why?
  • If you could only have one, would you prefer others to trust you or love you?
  • What do you think is more important socially: love or trust? Why?

Leave a comment below!

To read my fiction, serially published free every week, go here:

Collaboration

Last week a Substacker I follow, Candace Rose Rardon, illustrated a memory I shared with her. I was absolutely thrilled. The union of my words and her art spoke to one of my core values: collaboration.

Collaboration is about power management. It’s defined as working with someone. Not directing them. Not submitting to them. Working with them. In other words, sharing power – power-with rather than power-over.

Image by Bob Dmyt from Pixabay

Is it just me, or are we as a culture moving away from sharing power rather than toward it?

Collaboration and cooperation lie at the heart of my fiction. All my life I’ve been preoccupied with working together, but I never had adequate language or studied power until I learned emotional intelligence. At that point the light dawned. I reviewed my relationships, both family and otherwise, through the lens of power.

It was a grim review. I set out to reclaim my power.

Let’s be clear: reclamation is not stealing.

I didn’t want to take power away from others. I wanted to reclaim what had been taken from me.

This involved needs, boundary work, and many other moving parts, most of which I’ve written about here over the last seven years (almost exactly seven years … wow), and all of which are woven into my books.

Speaking of my books, I have a dream that one day a visual artist will read my work, become inspired, and want to illustrate it. That’s not all. (Might as well dream big, right?) In the same dream a musician (drums and flute or pipe, at least) reads my work, becomes inspired, and adds music and a soundscape to it. I even dream one day we’ll develop the ability to incorporate scent into reading.

I am a sensual person, and my writing reflects that. I myself see my characters and my world of Webbd vividly, but I’m not an artist. I respond deeply to music physically and emotionally, but I’m not a musician.

In every relationship I’ve sought collaboration. I’ve wanted a safe place to have an authentic voice, express an opinion, make a contribution. I’ve wanted the power to make choices. This has been true in the context of family, friends, spouses and boyfriends, coworkers, and community.

I have not been noticeably successful until the last ten years.

No matter how talented, strong, or knowledgeable we are, healthy collaboration can only make us bigger. Collaboration is tricky, though. It’s messy. We’re forced to deal with conflict, with different visions and voices than our own, different backgrounds, different belief systems, different ways of looking at the world and interacting with life. It’s work. It stretches us uncomfortably. We might have to be wrong (gasp!) and someone might find out we were wrong (horrors!).

Plenty of people say they want to collaborate when their true intention is a hostile takeover. Others seek collaboration as a way to make money or leverage other aspects of social power. Their agenda is to accrue power, not share it.

What Candace Rose Rardon did was extend a gift of generosity. When I sent her my memory I had no power over whether she chose to illustrate it or how she would illustrate it. I handed her my words and went on with life. I had no expectations. She sent back something beautiful woven of my words and her art. I’ve never met her. We exchanged no money. I know very little about her, but I do know this: she’s part of my tribe. She’s a creative collaborator.

Collaboration requires a willingness to be flexible and the willingness to accept someone’s vision regarding our art. As creators, we need to loosen our grip on our masterpieces and allow others to widen us. Perhaps someone else visualizes our character slightly differently than we do. Perhaps they see the character more clearly, or more fully than we can. As collaborators, we may be pushed to do more than we’ve done before, take new risks, try new things. Healthy collaboration makes us all more powerful, more expansive, more interesting, more textured.

We are stronger and more beautiful together than we are apart.

Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

Collaboration is everywhere. It’s the falling rain and early birdsong on a spring morning. It’s the calling of shorebirds against the background of surf. It’s the buzzing of a fat bumblebee in a fragrant blossom. The world is unbelievably sensual. Walking through tall grass this time of year, the stems and heads turning straw-colored, the small scratching prick of grasshopper legs on my bare skin, the scent of warm grass in my nostrils, is a miracle of collaboration. A garden exists because of collaboration between countless forms of life and the weather.

We can’t collaborate in every situation all the time. Leaders lead. Parents parent. Bosses must manage their people, teachers their students. We all have areas in our lives we like to manage solo, including areas in our creative lives. On the other hand, we are seeing the consequences of no collaboration: chaos, fear, hatred, division, destruction, and social breakdown. We are now successfully being manipulated into choosing not to collaborate even with ourselves, but with consumerism, capitalism, and ideology instead.

Collaboration is wide. It’s not only about human-to-human interaction. If we don’t figure out how to collaborate with our planet, with the human and non-human life around us, and (perhaps most importantly) with ourselves, we will not thrive. We’ll solve no problems. Nothing will change. We’ll meet challenges as individuals and as communities and countries poorly. We will keep ourselves small, disorganized, and weak.

Or we can choose to combine our knowledge, our skills, our vision, and our humanity.

Questions:

  • How have you collaborated successfully with others?
  • How have you struggled with collaboration?
  • What’s the hardest thing for you about sharing power with another?
  • Are you open to collaboration? Why or why not?

Leave a comment below!

To read my fiction, serially published free every week, go here:

Witness

I was taught, as a child, it was my job to alleviate distress. One must always respond immediately and help the sufferer. It went far beyond duty and obligation. If I did not fix the distress of others, my childish world would fall apart. Everyone would leave.

Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

For a child, such consequences are death.

I was also taught “help” meant doing anything and everything I was asked to do, immediately, unquestioningly, and unendingly. My own distress was of no consequence at best and a direct threat, an unwelcome competition, at worst.

That core teaching stayed with me as I grew up, and has been a keynote of my behavior and experience most of my life. I wanted to help people. When people around me suffered, I felt an overwhelming, painful panic, as well as complete responsibility. I had to do everything I could, give the situation my all in order to “help.”

I also grew up with an inability to respond to my own distress. Hunger, thirst, fatigue, emotional and physical pain, were all ignored. My disconnection from my own needs and experience led me into chronic pain, eating disorder, depression, and anxiety. I was unaware of my traumatic wounds. I had no interest in helping myself. Helping myself was selfish, bad, and unloving.

Then I studied emotional intelligence and all the work and therapy I’d done over the years with guides and teachers as well as on my own (see my Resources page) wove together into an intention to reclaim my health and my self.

This blog has been a key part of that work.

I still don’t like to watch people suffer, but I’m more careful now about “helping.” I’ve learned suffering is not necessarily the enemy. We get ill, have painful emotional and physical injuries, have uncomfortable feelings. We age and our bodies and sometimes our minds wear out. To be human is to experience these things; they’re inescapable. We can’t control what happens to us, but we can control how we deal with such events. When someone is suffering, I’ve learned to be less reactive, to remember it’s not my fault or my responsibility to fix it. I’ve learned to notice whether the sufferer is helping themselves before I jump in.

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

I have learned a bitter lesson: No one can help someone who will not help themselves.

I realize now we can’t always go back to where we were before we were wounded; we can’t always heal the wound itself. Sometimes our wounds and suffering are taking us into something new and what’s called for is not healing, but tolerance and patience.

What does “help” mean? This is an important question. Does help mean we respond promptly to all demands, whether or not they are safe, sustainable, or even possible? Does help mean we make thoughtful, intentional choices for safety and practicality even if those choices go against what we are being asked to do in terms of “help?” Do we decide what the best “help” is, or does the sufferer get to choose what kind of “help” they want?

I’m still uncomfortable talking about my own pain. Honestly, I’m still uncomfortable even noticing it, but I practice every day at staying present with how things are with me. It feels selfish and wrong, but I know that feeling doesn’t mean it is selfish and wrong, just that it’s very different from my early training. Sometimes the choice that feels worst is the best choice. Sometimes suffering is the only possible road forward into peace, growth and resilience.

None of us has the power to help anyone avoid suffering. I confess I’ve argued with that reality all my life, but it hasn’t done a bit of good. In fact, it’s done harm, most of all to myself.

I have occasionally, in the depths of anguish, asked for help. When I do that, what am I asking for?

Nothing tangible. Not money or a thing. Not love. Not sex. Not a gallon of ice cream. I’m not asking for someone to come along and fix it all, or take responsibility.

I’m asking to be heard. I’m asking for someone to say, “I’m here. You’re not alone. I believe in you. I know your goodness, your strength, your courage.” I’m asking for a safe place to discharge my feelings. This might involve snot, wet Kleenexes, rage, and a raised voice.

A safe place is not a place where someone else takes responsibility and fixes, or asks me to stop feeling my feelings, or is clearly uncomfortable with my suffering. A safe place is provided by someone with healthy boundaries who is willing to witness my distress without feeling compelled to fix it.

Witness. A witness. That’s ultimately what I want. Just someone to be there with me for a little while. I can face my own demons and challenges, but I can’t do it all alone.

Photo by Gemma Chua Tran on Unsplash

None of us can. We are social animals. But we can witness for one another. We can sit quietly, holding a safe space without judgment or a fix or advice, and just witness. Pass the Kleenex.

It’s the hardest thing in the world for me to do. Simply witnessing seems so passive, so weak, so useless. Someone right in front of me is deeply distressed and I simply sit like a bump on a log witnessing? Are you kidding me?

Surely, I can do better than that. I can do more than that. It’s up to me to make their suffering stop!

And yet. And yet. Isn’t finding a witness incredibly hard? How many people in our lives can take on such a role? What an inestimable gift, to be willing to walk beside someone who is suffering, to be willing to stay, to not look away. What if our boundaries were so healthy we could do that? What if we weren’t afraid of suffering? What if we were wise enough, strong enough, to make room for it and sit down beside it?

Someone I love is in great anguish of spirit. They beg me for help, but a very specific kind of help which is ethically and practically impossible for me or anyone else to give. Which makes me an enemy. Which makes my loved one even more alone than they already feel, more victimized, more powerless, more confused.

There is nothing about this that doesn’t suck. I dread the phone calls beyond words because I don’t want to witness this suffering. It feels unbearable. But my loved one must bear it, and if they have to, I can. I choose to witness. It feels like nothing. It’s not what’s wanted. But at this point it’s all I can do. So I will keep calling and answering calls. I will get up in the morning and talk to case managers, nurses, CNAs, palliative care consultants, nursing homes, and whoever else will talk to me. I will update friends and family. Then I will get up the next morning and do it again.

I pray there is some power in witnessing, some rightness. I pray that somehow my love and willingness to remain a witness does a little bit of good, provides some small comfort, lights a candle in the darkness of dementia, even for a moment.

And I search inside my own suffering for wisdom, for healing, for grace, and for faith.

To read my fiction, serially published free every week, go here:

 

 

Red Flags

A little over three years ago I wrote a post titled “Questions Before Engagement.”

Since then, the world has changed, and so have I.

I’m not on social media, but my biggest writing cheerleader is, and he tells me people are talking about how to recognize red flags. He suggested I post again about problematic behavior patterns.

A red flag is a warning sign indicating we need to pay attention. It doesn’t necessarily mean all is lost, or we’ve made a terrible mistake, or it’s time to run. It might be whoever we’re dealing with is simply having a bad day. Nobody’s perfect.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

A persistent pattern of red flags is significant. Ignoring problematic behavior sets us up to get hurt.

The problem with managing red flags is we may be flying several ourselves, and until we figure out our own behavior we’re going to struggle to deal effectively with others.

We all have an excellent built-in system alerting us to possible danger. We call it intuition, going with our gut, or having a hunch or a feeling. We may not know why we feel uneasy, but we subconsciously pick up on threatening or “off” behavior from others. The difficulty is we’re frequently actively taught to disregard our gut feelings, especially as women. We’re being dramatic, or hysterical, or a bitch. We’re drawing attention to ourselves, or making a scene. What we saw, heard or felt wasn’t real. It didn’t happen, or if it did happen, we brought it on ourselves.

We live in a culture that’s increasingly invalidating. Having a bad feeling about someone is framed as being hateful, engaging in profiling, or being exclusive rather than inclusive. Social pressure makes it hard to speak up when we feel uncomfortable. Many of the most influential among us believe their money and power place them above the law, and this appears to be true in some cases. In the absence of justice, we become apathetic. What’s the point of responding to our intuition and trying to keep our connections clean and healthy when we can’t get any support in doing so?

If we grow up being told we can’t trust our own feelings and perceptions, we’re dangerously handicapped; we don’t respond to our intuition because we don’t trust it. We talk ourselves out of self-defense. We recognize red flags on some level, but we don’t trust ourselves enough to respond appropriately. Indeed, some of us have been severely punished for responding appropriately, so we’ve learned to normalize and accept inappropriate behavior.

So before we concern ourselves with others’ behavior, we need to do some self-assessment:

  • Do we trust ourselves?
  • Do we respond to our intuition?
  • Do we choose to defend ourselves?
  • Do we have healthy personal boundaries?
  • Do we keep our word to ourselves?
  • Do we know how to say both yes and no?
  • Do we know what our needs are?
  • Are we willing to look at our situation and relationships clearly and honestly, no matter how unwelcome the truth might be?

Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

Once we’ve become familiar with our own motivation and behavior patterns, we can turn our attention outward and focus on the behavior of those we interact with.

Red flags frequently seem too bad to be true. In intimate relationships with partners and family, the anguish of acknowledging toxic or dangerous behavior and setting limits around it cannot be overstated. Those we are closest to trigger our deepest and most volatile passions. This is why it’s so important to be honest with ourselves.

The widest lens through which to examine any given relationship is that of power-over or power-with. I say ‘lens’ because we must look and see, not listen for what we want to hear. Talk is cheap. People lie. Observation over time tells us more than words ever could. In the case of a stranger offering unwanted help with groceries, we don’t have an opportunity to observe over time, but we can say a clear “no” and immediately notice if our no is respected or ignored. We may have no more than a minute or two to decide to take evasive or defensive action.

If we are not in an emergency situation, or dealing with a family member or person we’ve known for a long time, it might be easier to discern if they’re generally working for power-with or power-over. However, many folks are quite adept at using the right words and hiding their true agenda. Their actions over time will invariably clarify the truth.

Power-over versus power-with is a simple way to examine behavior. No labels and jargon involved. No politics. No concern with age, race, ethnicity, biological sex, or gender expression. Each position of power is identifiable by a cluster of behaviors along a continuum. We decide how far we are willing to slide in one direction or another.

Power-Over

  • Silencing, deplatforming, threatening, personal attacks, forced teaming, bullying, controlling
  • Win and be right at all costs
  • Gaslighting, projection, DARVO tactics (Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender)
  • Fostering confusion, distrust, disinformation, and violence
  • Dishonesty
  • Poor communication and refusing to answer questions
  • Emotional unavailability
  • High-conflict behavior
  • Blaming and shaming of others
  • Refusal to respect boundaries
  • Inconsistent
  • Refusal to discuss, debate, learn new information, take no for an answer
  • Lack of reciprocity
  • Lack of interest in the needs and experiences of others

Power-With

  • Encouraging questions, feedback, open discussion, new information, ongoing learning, critical thinking
  • Prioritizing connection, collaboration, and cooperation over winning and being right; tolerance
  • Clear, consistent, honest communication
  • Fostering clarity, trust, information (facts), healthy boundaries, reciprocity, authenticity, and peaceful problem solving
  • Emotionally available and intelligent
  • Taking responsibility for choices and consequences
  • Words and actions are consistent over time
  • Respect and empathy for others

We don’t need to be in the dark about red flags. Here are some highly recommended resources:

  • The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker
  • Bill Eddy’s website and books about high-conflict personalities
  • Controlling People by Patricia Evans

Image by Bob Dmyt from Pixabay

Manufactured Distrust

Trust: Firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability or strength of someone or something (Oxford Online Dictionary)

Mistrust: General sense of unease towards someone or something

Distrust: Specific lack of trust based on experience or reliable information

Leo Babauta recently published a piece on practicing trust which has given me much food for thought.

Trust is an uncomfortable subject for me. For most of my life I’ve considered myself to be shamefully distrustful. As I’ve learned emotional intelligence, I’ve realized I have plenty of good reasons for my mistrust and distrust, but there’s still a part of me that feels I should be more trusting, more willing to give others a second, or third, or hundredth chance, less guarded, more open, more forgiving.

Photo by Liane Metzler on Unsplash

Except I know intellectually forgiveness does not mean an automatic reinstatement of trust.

In my heart, I feel like a bad person, especially a bad woman, because throughout my life people who say they love me have appeared to be hurt by my lack of trust. Yet those same people have given me reasons not to trust them.

When I wind up in these confusing emotional cul-de-sacs, I blame myself. I’m being too dramatic (again). I’m being a bitch. I’m mean. I can’t love, or let anyone love me. (Does trust = love? Does all love automatically come with trust?) When I explain the specific events leading to my mis- or distrust, I’ve frequently been told the other party doesn’t remember saying what they said or doing what they did. This implies I’m nitpicking, ridiculously sensitive, keeping score, or even making it up. I wonder if I’m being gaslighted, or if I’m just not a nice person.

Years and years ago I made a rule for myself: give every situation or person three chances before deciding not to trust. It still feels fair to me. Sometimes things happen. We have a bad day. We say hurtful things, or don’t keep our word, or make a boneheaded choice, breaking trust with someone. I know I’ve done it, and I’d like to be given the benefit of a doubt.

The benefit of a doubt is fair, right?

I still follow that rule. It feels appropriately kind to others and like good self-care. Yet I feel guilt nearly every day over the people in my life who I want to trust, feel that I should trust, and don’t trust.

Babauta’s article specifically addresses signs of distrust of ourselves, and some ideas about practicing self-trust. I never connected problems with focus, fear or uncertainty, procrastination or indecision with lack of self-trust, but I can see they might be. If we don’t trust our priorities, resilience, or choices, it’s difficult to be decisive or take risks with commitments and problem solving.

If we don’t trust ourselves to cope effectively with sudden changes and reversals and frightening situations, uncertainty and chaos disable us, making us vulnerable to anyone or anything promising relief, certainty, or help.

The boundary between trust in ourselves and trust in others is permeable. If we define ourselves, as I do, as “having trust issues,” presumably that includes issues with ourselves as well as others.

It makes me shudder to imagine living with no feeling of belief in the reliability, truth, ability or strength of anyone or anything. How could anyone sustain such an emotionally isolated condition, not only from those around them but from themselves?

I do have people in my life I trust. Is it possible I don’t have trust issues? Is that just a polite, apologetic, and roundabout way of avoiding a direct “I don’t trust you?”

Do I have to answer that?

It’s true I trust far fewer people than I distrust.

But it’s also true I give people and situations a chance. Three chances, in fact. At least.

Why does it seem so cruel to tell someone we don’t trust them?

Trust, as I experience it, is not all or nothing. I might trust a person to be kind and caring but never allow them to drive me anywhere. I might trust a person with money but never trust them to be on time. I trust myself to be there for others, but I haven’t trusted myself to be there for me.

Consumerism is about distrust. We’re actively groomed to distrust ourselves. Yesterday I was laughing with a friend about articles on MSN. There was an article about trends and fashion in decorating, as though it matters. Shiplap is out. White kitchens are out. Accent walls are out. Then there was an article about how to properly fold plastic grocery bags. I’m not kidding. Did you know you’ve been storing plastic grocery bags the WRONG WAY all these years? How could you be so incompetent? A capitalist culture only survives as long as people buy things, and advertising (and a lot of other media) is about the ways you need to improve, do it right, be better.

Advertising is manufactured distrust. We’re inadequate, but a widget would make us better. We buy, and we discover we still don’t feel good enough, and another ad tells us we need a nidget. So we buy that, but then we see a gidget on sale that will make us even better …

Who benefits most from our lack of trust in ourselves?

I believe information is power. I believe education is power. I believe in science, data, and critical thinking. I trust those things.

Who benefits most from the breakdown of public education, the demonization and gutting of scientific organizations and communities, manufactured misinformation, manufactured disinformation, and “alternative facts?”

Photo by roya ann miller on Unsplash

The Center For Nonviolent Communication says trust is a human need; it’s listed under connection needs. When our needs aren’t met, our health (mental, physical, emotional) suffers. If we are unable to trust we’re wide open to conspiracy theorists, ideologues, authoritarians, and other abusers and manipulators. Predators happily gorge off the results of manufactured distrust.

This is a big, big, problem, because it stands between us and managing things like climate change. Which, depending on who you talk to, isn’t even real because science has been the target of so much manufactured distrust.

One day, sooner rather than later in the Southwest, a switch won’t deliver electricity and a faucet won’t deliver water. Scientists have been talking about consequences of climate change and drought in the area for decades. It was one of the reasons I left my lifelong home in Colorado and came to Maine nearly eight years ago. A combination of manufactured distrust, denial, and the misplaced priority of winning the next election have effectively stopped any kind of collaborative or cooperative problem-solving around water usage throughout the Colorado River watershed, and here we are, on the brink of multi-state disaster that will affect the whole country.

Trust is a choice we make many times a day. Do we trust our families, coworkers, and friends? Do we trust the headlines we read, the news anchor we hear, or the algorithms providing us with “information” on social media? Do we trust what lands in our Inbox or the unfamiliar number calling us? Do we trust the oncoming car will really stop so we can safely walk across the busy street?

More importantly, do we trust our own instincts, feelings, and capability? Do we actively teach our children to trust theirs? Do we encourage our friends and loved ones to trust themselves? Or do we tell people they have it wrong, it didn’t happen, they’re being ridiculous, they don’t understand?

Choice comes with consequences and responsibility. Choice is dynamic; do we trust if we make a choice that doesn’t work out the way we hoped, we’ll choose again? Do we trust ourselves to be wrong and learn something before we choose again? Do we trust our ability to problem solve, bounce back, and do the best we can most of the time?

I suppose somewhere between having no trust at all and trusting everyone and everything lies a fine line of willingness to trust. We could approach new situations and people with curiosity and an open mind, be big enough to give the benefit of the doubt, and have healthy enough boundaries and the self-trust to disengage when we have evidence and experience indicating our trust is misplaced.

The first step in rejecting manufactured distrust is building trust in ourselves and demonstrating our own reliability, truth, ability and strength as we engage with others.

Photo by Ryan Moreno on Unsplash