Assessing Trustworthiness

Yesterday I wrote about ‘Assessing Accountability’. That made me think more about the concept. I included words related to ‘trust’, ‘honesty’ etc.

As I’m writing this I’m having vague recollections of persons in my past asserting that they ‘trust [such and such person] implicitly!!’, whilst waving hands around to get the point across. In public and personal life I think I can safely say that most people know that you can only trust a person within certain limits. Those limits may decided quite rightly at a personal level, or often times at a professional level. 

It’s a very broad picture I’m painting, so I’m unable to stop to explore minor exceptions. I’m not going to go into all the things that we may trust people to do or not do – it’s not essential to this exploration.

But I’m thinking what is this ‘trust’ about. I think that at the end of the day, it is about carrying out some actions, service or performance – that is what all humans rely on others for. When we ‘trust’ people, we depend on them to do certain things that are in our interests – or not to do things that are against our better interests.

Trust must be connected closely to our ‘needs’ – and to a lesser extent our ‘wants’ (no exploration of what distinguishes the two today – and I warn time-wasters, not to get on the wrong side of me. Google is your friend, not me!). What are our ‘needs’? I also waste no time on this – please see and (Google) Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs and various related matters. And this is not to suggest that I think that’s the end of what ‘needs’ means.

To leave off the ‘hard’ psychology stuff and just think as lay persons; it’s obvious to many that we ‘need’ much of the following:

  1. Physical safety and protect our emotional well-being
  2. To deal properly with our bodily functions.
  3. Adequate air, food and water
  4. Sufficient amounts of rest/sleep
  5. Most of us value a place we call home
  6. Recreation and entertainment
  7. To feel part of a bigger picture i.e. social and cultural needs.
  8. …someone is about to tell me about money, sex and drugs -  so I’ll stop here to avoid a massive distracting sub-issue debate.

These are the big bones on which we can attach finer bones such as ‘love’, ‘family life’ etc. Look, I don’t want to be here all day going down every sub-category or one that I’ve missed. Get the bigger picture and not get bogged down in the detail – puhleese!

So, having given some idea of what needs may be, it’s now possible to appreciate better that if we trust someone or some entity, we come to expect that they may take care of some of our needs or not threaten them.

Life however is complicated. People are sometimes not 100% trustworthy – in fact that is the rule because ‘the humans’ are fallible and weak, individually or in their numbers. The level of trust we put in some person or entity may vary from time to time and by a range of factors, too many to explore here.

Patterns of conduct and performance are what lead us to induce or score people/entities as predictable in certain ways. We can then ‘trust’ that they will say or do a certain thing – within a fair margin of prediction. The humans like life to be predictable because they are very intolerant of stress and anxiety (but they put on quite a brave face outwardly).  So ‘trust’ depends on patterns of performance.

If you’re employing someone to work on the plumbing in your home you would want to know, they are qualified, competent, will do what’s required in reasonable time, stick to their cost estimates, not endanger your household, damage your property or steal from you. Anything that alerts you to weaknesses in any of the latter, leads you to lower your reliability rating of them before they take up the job.

But in life it’s often not always possible to immediately trust someone. Accountability and trust may come after performance is seen. This is where the person/entity who is ‘accountable’ becomes readily open to scrutiny and relishes their performance being inspected or even probed. Just so that someone prone to thinking in a narrow or concrete way, doesn’t run away with this, I’m talking about contractual situations – obviously! (Chyrsst!! These blogs are bledy hard to write because I always have to anticipate some nonsensical minutiae, and head it off.) Yes – the contractual situation can provide a template for thinking about this more broadly, but personal situations whilst overlapping may have a range of other factors – and I didn’t plan this to be 50,000 words.

To sum up, ‘accountability and ‘trustworthiness’ must go hand in hand. I cannot see one without the other. I think that ‘always’ a person/entity who is trustworthy will demonstrate their worth and reliability and in so doing instil a sense of confidence and calmness about their likely performance.

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