Friday, March 5, 2010

Trustworthiness: What does it look like?

Sometimes it is much easier to see what trustworthy is not than to truly understand what it is.  It seems that distrust and unfaithfulness are easy to spot, but a trustworthy man who can find (Psalm 12:1). 

Many a man proclaims his own loyalty, but who can find a trustworthy man?
Proverbs 20:6 (HCSB)

I like words.  Words are the building blocks of ideas.  Without words we can scarcely communicate with one another.  Think of how it would be if you had no words.  Even our very consciousness is a product of words strung together giving our lives meaning.  When I try to understand an idea I often trace it back to the word.  To understand trustworthiness I believe it would be a useful exercise to look at the word itself in order to understand what we are looking to cultivate in our lives in order to be a trustworthy person. 

Before we do though let me just say that trustworthiness is more that simply understanding and saying the right words.  It is the action of trustworthiness that defines whether a person is or is not trustworthy.  No amount of special pleading will move a person from untrustworthiness to trustworthiness.  With that in mind lets look more into the meaning of this word.

Looking at Word Origins

Trustworthy as a word first appeared in the English literature around 1808.  This would make the word relatively young.  I would be very interested what word or words were used before to convey the idea.  Based on the King James (1611) the word would have been faithful (See Proverbs 11:13 (KJV) compared to Proverbs 11:13).  The word faithful can be traced back to the 1300s making it a much older word than trustworthy.  So now we have two words to explore faithful and trustworthy. 

Faithful quite literally means full of faith.  One might ask full of faith as to believe or worthy of other's full faith (ie confidence).  I would think it is both.  It does me no good to have other's faith and confidence when It is lacking in me.  Let me suggest though that being full of faith is a higher priority than having others confidence.

Faithful also indicates a person that is willing to stick to it for better and for worse.  It indicates consistency.  God remains faithful many times in spite of our unfaithfulness.  He is always faithful.  So in our relationships we can demonstrate faithfulness by being a consistent source of support, love, kindness, and edification for the one that we care for.   

This type of faith starts first in one's relationship with God.  It is a deep abiding trust that God will work things out for the good of those who trust and love God and follow Him and His purposes(Romans 8:28).  Notice how the trust leads to action.  I trust leading to love leading to following Him.  Often we turn that around like this.  I will do what I think God wants me to do, hoping to demonstrate my love and devotion to him and someday I will have enough faith to trust in Him.  Don't miss this point.  Being full of faith is confidence leading to action and not action leading to trust.  This is very important in this presentation of trust.  The act of trust is proceeded by trustworthiness (faithfulness) and confidence.  Full of faith then extends from this relationship with God into the relationships with other people (ie confidence; more on this in a future post)

Looking at Synonyms

A trustworthy person is authentic.  Often times in a relationship where trust has been broken or when someone is seeking to gain another's trust the person wanting to be trusted will fall into a pattern of telling the other what they think they want them to hear.  This approach may gain some points with the person in the short-term, but it lack authenticity and will be diminish trustworthiness in the long-term. 

A trustworthy person takes responsibility for their actions (good or bad).  It is easy to be defensive.  It takes a trustworthy person to accept not only the things they have done wrong in life, but to understand the effect that has had on others view of them personally.  Stated a different way blaming others for not seeing us as trustworthy (after doing something wrong) is denial of responsibility. 

A trustworthy person is mature.  There is whole host of things that come with maturity, but probably the biggest is perspective and effective action.  For example a mature person will recognize when a conversation is heading toward conflict and choose to do what best for the relationship rather than keep the conflict going to prove a point.  Maturity also carries with is some mellowness, calmness, levelheadedness.

A trustworthy person is credible.  This credibility is rooted in honesty, but it is also brought about by constancy in doing what one says they are going to do.  There is a correspondence between what I believe, what I say, and what I do.  That is integrity. 

A trustworthy person is open.  Openness to other points of view.  This does not mean that this person agrees with all points of view, but a trustworthy person is willing to listen until he or she understands the other's point of view. 

A trustworthy person lives by his or her values.  It is important to understand your own values and what is important to you.  It is important to understand why they are important to you.  Then it is important to let those values guide what you do.  So often we get trapped into making decisions based on our situations rather than our values.  Situational ethics is in the end becomes a personal choice based on what you believe is best for that situation.  Principled ethics lead you to choose based on what is right and just in each situation regardless of what might make you feel good.

There are many more words that define trustworthiness.  I have elaborated on some of them here.  You can see more synonyms here.  My recommendation is that you review this list of words and the words from the thesaurus and ask yourself, "Am I cultivating these qualities in my life?"  If you are then you seem to be on the right track.  If not then you have ask whether you really are growing in trustworthiness.  Honestly each person has work to do in the area of trustworthiness.  This exercise needs to be looking at one's self not used as a tool prove someone else's untrustworthiness.  If that is your tendency after reading this post then can I say that a trustworthy person acts to improve himself or herself in order that she or he can do what is in the best interests of the other person. 

Why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye but don't notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' and look, there's a log in your eye? Hypocrite! First take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.
Matthew 7:3-5 (HCSB)

In short then trustworthiness is...
Faithfulness
Authenticity
Taking responsibility
Maturity
Honesty and credibility
Openness
Principled based on values not situations
Willing to examine one's self
Acting in the best interests of others

 

 

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