Saturday, September 24, 2011

Up in the Air

Where does it come from, trust, and what is its use? Does it exist only to give you courage to do things you shouldn't? Such as love?

I've been thinking lately about this amorphous thing. It is not made of substance, yet it is the very foundation on which you build things of great substance. Your life and all it contains, for instance. Where does it come from--childish hope?

I refer not to love which is given: that is always its own reward. And I refer not to the love we offer so joyously to our children, to our friends, and to our dogs, who alone may be counted on to never change suddenly in midstream: I just decided I don't love you anymore, so I'll see you later. The trust in a dog's return of affection is never misplaced. If anyone is looking for the primary reason we choose as companions domestic canines by the million, there you go.

(I was recently sent--by a fellow dog person, of course--the Mad TV skit in which a man stands on a ledge outside his apartment, ready to end it all, while his wife tries to talk him down. She gets sidetracked by her pets, though, a dozen ankle-biters who get cooed at, wovey-dovey, while he gets readier by the minute to jump. She finally thinks to ask him why--it's because she loves the dogs more than him, of course.)

One cannot always know what children are thinking.
Children are hard to understand, especially when
careful training has accustomed them to obedience
and experience has made them cautious in conversation
with their teachers. Will you not draw from that
fine maxim that one should not scold children too
much but should make them trustful, so that they
will not conceal their stupidities from us?

These are the words, written in 1776, of Catherine the Great of Russia. They illustrate, to devious ends, how trust leads to openness, and openness to the fullest experience of relationships in which nothing needs to be hidden. In this utopia made of trust, the energy one would otherwise devote to manipulation need never be expended. It may be spent in happier ways.

Recently I had cause to write in a notebook: "Insecure people are inherently untrustworthy." And so it is that trust is the chicken-or-egg question rolling endlessly from one side of a life to the other. Being unable to trust one's primary caretaker makes one insecure; then one turns around and later proves himself unworthy of trust.

We have all heard of people who exemplify the sad craziness of falling in love with those who are transparent liars and cheats, but who nonetheless elicit trust from their victim. "He told me he was never going to [fill in the blank] again!" "And you believed him?" "Yes! He promised!"


But how can any of us really know? We go on our merry way, trusting in all sorts of things--the electric light that will go on when we flip the switch, the sun that rises every morning (so far!), the honesty of our elected officials, the promise and the vow and the kiss. Is it all a big craps shoot? Maybe someday we will be able to determine the logarithm of trust, that which will render heartbreak a thing of the past--the princess telephone of emotion.


Shybiker said...

Your intriguing post makes me wonder what's happening in your life to cause you to ask such questions. Not because I'm nosy (you shouldn't, of course, disclose that private information) but because, when I'm wrestling with a personal issue, I get philosophical in exactly the same way. I generalize, abstract and try to reason my way to an answer. I rarely arrive at one but find the process therapeutic nonetheless. It sounds like yours doing the same. Those of us with active minds tend to do this.

Addressing your ostensible subject, trust, in my view, encompasses three separate things. As you cite, trust that a bulb will light when we flick a switch is a belief in conventional physics. Expecting laws, like gravity, to continue operating the way they have in the past. (We may, due to Thursday's discovery of neutrinos breaking the speed-limit of light, need to revise this understanding.)

That first type of trust is common and unremarkable. I'd distinguish it from the next two kinds: belief in customary social behavior; and personal belief.

If we think about it (and we rarely do), the amount of customary social behavior is amazing. Society works because the vast majority of us yield when we're supposed to, cooperate when necessary, and do what's expected. I noted this when seeing a long line of cars merge into a single lane: all but an errant miscreant followed the unexplained rule that we let alternating vehicles weave in.

I suspect that your real focus is on the final category: personal trust. The trust we place in others, including canine-companions. (Your use of dogs is a helpful way to illustrate how fellow-humans too frequently fall short of our expectations; dogs never do.)

Personal trust, I believe, radiates from our childhood experiences and, once formed, remains stable throughout our lifetime. We rarely become more or less trusting.

Thanks for the questions to ponder. Hope I didn't take up too much of your blog-space. Enjoy the weekend.

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Good guess! (About me.) And good observations.

It can be a curse to depend on the intellect when trying to figure out which way to go--the gut is the better organ there. But what to do when you can't trust your gut? When you always talk your way around its wisdom, somehow?

I am grappling with things so elemental now they floor me. (The fact that I'm still doing it at this point in life is also plenty surprising.) And I am trying all sorts of methodologies. This is just one. I have many others going on at the same time--some of which sound too foolish to name out loud, but my attitude now is: Shake it up. Try everything.

Even if some inadvertent germ of understanding comes from some wacky attempt (can you say "sound healing"?) then it'll be worth the time.

Yes, and then there's going out for a ride. But even that can't fix everything. Close, but not the fatal and big questions, such as: Can trust be regrown, in a broken pot?

I would like to think the answer is yes. I am researching fertilizers right now.

Thank you for your thoughtfulness. It's going into the file folder marked "Ponder This."

Shybiker said...

Let me just say that you're not alone, either in facing hard questions later in life than expected or in trying new approaches.

In my forties, I figured I'd seen it all and learned it all. Then, in my early-fifties I started wrestling with fundamental issues all over again. Partly out of curiosity, I also tried a host of unorthodox remedies.

People are puzzled when I explain that the older I get, the less I believe I know: the certainty I used to have about so many things now seems like an illusion, like quicksand into which we can suddenly sink.

Take heart: you're not alone.

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

I would only be puzzled to find that any of my previous certainties (and there's nothing like the certainty of a twenty-year-old, is there?) had ossified. Instead, like yours, they're opening up before me, festooned with question marks.

Like: Who am I? What do I really want? Can I get there, if I do figure it out? If I don't get there--or if I can't figure it out--is it some terrible self-protective personality failure?

Then, finally: ARGH!

And the days draw on.

(I appreciate the words of solidarity. I do.)

Kent said...

Do you ever look at the simple, happy folk in this world and just want to quote Kurt Cobain:

"I wish I was like you...easily amused."

The unexamined life. Might be less depressing!

Charles said...

hrm.... trust, like respect, for me, is EARNED. it is not given until proven.

years of motorcycles and racing, and divorce and idiot bosses have taught me this.

Someone wants my respect? they have to earn it. You got a PhD? whoop-a-dee-dooo. I ain't callin you "Doctor" till I see you save someone's life using C-P-R.

you want my trust? I need to know you. ride with you. see how you handle certain activities or challenges.

even after all that?? people grow and change. So you constantly have to re-evaluate based on their character.

Once I have decided, non-trustworthy, or not worthy of respect? there are NO move-ups.

Hve you ever read about Jack Wilson? His Triumph was the landspeed record holder they named the bike "Bonneville" after.

He had a ranking system for everyone. It is outlined in one of his many eulogies, you may find it here...

anyhow, after faith, trust, respect are broken for me? there are no move-ups

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

The way Jack Wilson operated (the eulogy made me wish I could have watched him--but I would have done so from a very great distance; one wants to measure up in the eyes of a man like that) sounds like an applied analogue to the literary injunction "Show--don't tell." Words are cheap. Actions matter. And that's what I'm after: if you want me to trust, show me the money. (Plus, it says right there: In God we trust.)

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Kent, I've long wondered how to snip the extra wiring in my brain that keeps it running all the time & getting so overheated. It would be so refreshing to wear an idiotic grin every once in a while.

And we all know what happened to Cobain. He knew too much, and felt it all.

Joe said...

"A mother is the only thing that is so constituted that they possess eternal love, under any and all circumstances, no matter how you treat them, you still have their love.

"I was telling that to my wife today. I said, 'You know, Betty, a mother and a dog is the only two things that have eternal love. No matter how you treat 'em. And my wife made me cut the dog out.

'Well it didn't sound very good and it might sound disrespectful and I didn't mean it....and the poor old dog will have to go, I can't use it, my wife made me cut the dog out, but he still loves you just as much as a mother does...maybe one day we'll have Dog Day, but until then...I hate to leave the dog out, but my wife, she runs this outfit."


Joe said...

That last quotation was from Will Rogers' Mother's Day radio show in about 1932.

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Beautiful! Thanks, Joe.