There exists an invisible treasure in the world. If you don’t take care of it, you lose it. If you possess it and do not lose it, it will enrich your every day. It’s seen in staring your dearest friend in the eyes and knowing you will always have each other’s back. It is seen in sending your fifteen-year-old son halfway across the world for three weeks and knowing he will be alright. And it is for sure felt in receiving the most beautiful smile from your girlfriend, giving you inner peace and joy because you know despite both of your inadequacies, imperfections, and struggles, you will love each other through and through…
This is the treasure of trust.
When I saw this [essay] challenge and read the different categories to write about, I started thinking. Of course, I can dedicate an essay to the abundant trust issues in politics, business, and media. I could have written about the Diesel scandal at Volkswagen and how integrity could have prevented this. I might have written an entire essay concerning the distrust in authorities regarding COVID-19 and the ongoing riots. It would’ve been possible to pick something closer to home, where our Dutch cabinet has just fallen, and the people have lost faith in our parliament. Subsequently, I would have discussed the economic utility derived from trust and how it makes cooperative endeavours happen (Gambetta, 1988). I would have cited The Wealth and Poverty of Nations by David Landes, pointing out that trust is a significant factor in the wealth of a nation, despite its natural recourses.
Yet I will not.
Instead, I want to dig deeper. I want to know what is at the bottom of these issues. Why do I want to dig deeper rather than providing practical tips, researching numerous academic papers on trust and talking about positive examples of trust, such as the rise of eBay and transparency enhancing blockchain technologies like Bitcoin. Somehow, trust feels deeply fundamental, but why?
I feel like there is something profound to be stated through a personal approach and introspection. So, I will look even closer to home, within myself. I shall start questioning myself, my own trust.
My essay is about discovering the meaning of trust within ourselves.
But what is trust?
To establish common ground, I will use a respected definition, formulated by Lewicki and Wiethoff in 2000. They stated that trust is
“an individual’s belief in, and willingness to act on the basis of, the words, actions, and decisions of another.”
Through this definition, we learn that trust is embedded in interpersonal relations. One can even say it acts as a prerequisite for long-term, healthy friendship, partnerships, and relationship. However, in any mutual relationship, there is another relationship. The relationship with your Self. As we are infinitely complex, we perhaps do not understand ourselves fully and hence we deliberately convey a limited perception of ourselves. A large part of trust, then depends on ourselves: it is how we are perceived by the other person, and it is how the other person is perceived by us. That’s why I chose a personal approach to this essay. By understanding how we appear to ourselves, and why we might trust ourselves, we may gain insight in how we appear to others and how they come to trust us, or not.
This essay explores the question “Why do we trust someone?” I will try to answer that question in an individual context, through the following sub-questions: “Why do we trust ourselves? Do we know our Self? And how can we come to know that Self?”
Know thyself, a wise spell uttered by the Oracle of Delphi when Socrates came to ask. This concept has been elaborated by the late Swiss professor Carl Gustav Jung, especially in psychological terms. Not unintentionally, did I write ‘self’ with a capital S, as this concept is different from the everyday usage of the word “self.” The Self in Jungian psychology consists of the Ego and the Shadow. The Ego is everything you consciously associate yourself with and the shadow represents your unseen, repressed and perhaps even despised characteristics.
Our shadow arises from a young age. As we must conform to cultural standards, we have to compress our multi-faceted, slightly crazy, but beautiful being into a functional and compromised individual. This means we start wearing masks (no not just the corona masks). Jung called this “creating personas.”
Please, do not get me wrong here, there is utility in the persona. When you get groceries, you want to interact with the cashier, not the single mum who left her abusing husband because she couldn’t stand his drunk, late-night appearances and now is on the verge of a breakdown. We put on a mask for simplicity, convenience, and functionality. But it is still a mask, supposed to cover us temporarily and preferably for short episodes. Behind this mask lie thus our Ego and Shadow.
As stated, the Ego is that, or rather who, we identify ourselves with, and our Shadow is that which we also are, but do not consciously dare to face. This can be a repressed sexuality, a secret hooligan inside you waiting to come out, but it can also be, a highly sensitive, deeply emotional, and empathetic figure. If the shadow is our inner darkness, complete with dragons lurking, then behind those dragons there is gold to be found: our true selves. And this should be found.
It should be found not only because it allows us to live fully, it also directly relates to trust. Our shadow side is what causes trust to be broken or not to arise. Not accepting you have a shadow side means you live half a life. It means you will not understand yourself, and therefore, not the world. Especially, the dark side of the world, or more appropriately, the “dark side of the moon.” By the dark side, I mean the atrocities acted out by humans. When these atrocities are spoken of, people often mention “I could never do that”, “they are monsters”, or even more profound “that is inhumane.”
Here is the catch.
It is very human. And we are all human.
If this does not scare you, I do not know what does. It means that you, yes, I really mean you, the one reading this essay now, and I, have a secret Stalin, Mao, and Hitler hidden deep inside us.
Instead of healthily facing, accepting, and integrating their potential (self-)destructive shadow side, they projected this onto a scapegoat and let it get the worst of them. If we really want to learn from these evil events, we must look at our own shadow sides. Because as Jung stated,
“unless you learn to face your own shadow, you will continue to see them in others, because the world outside is only a reflection of the world inside you.”
I really believe that to comprehend what it means to trust someone, especially in a case where we share vulnerably like in a deeply meaningful relationship, we need to know how terrible and destructive we can be. To fully understand a concept, you must know the other extreme side of the spectrum. In the case of trust, betrayal is its nemesis. Betrayal is the worst kind of hell someone can induce upon you. Betrayal in a relationship won’t merely cause mayhem for your future, it distorts your entire idea of your past too. Like being cheated on, betrayal is not a one-time, chronological, ready-for-forgiveness event. The person you were with is not the person you thought they were. And worse, you are not the person you thought you were.
Dante found this out in his inner journey during the writings of Inferno, where he realised the worst form of hell is entered through the doors of betrayal. Truly understanding this and working to integrate your shadow, results in higher self-respect and a recalibration of your moral compass. But to do that, there are two prerequisites: courage, and a divine belief in truth.
So, to dig into your shadow side and eventually establish and value trust, you need to believe in truth. For it is that we are hiding from the truth and thus ourselves by living half this life. An absolute commitment to unconditional truth prevents you from corrupting and betraying yourself. Dostoevsky perfectly wrote this in Brothers Karamazov.
“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect, he ceases to love.”
Yes, you can lie, deceive, and betray people. You might not even get persecuted, but always will you jeopardize your future and remain haunted by your conscience. Although it seems unrelated, there is a parallel conclusion to be drawn from Socrates’ Death.
Socrates was put on trial for corrupting the youth of Athens, given a warning, and basically told to leave town within six months, or else he would be poisoned. Throughout Socrates’ life, he always consulted his inner voice, his daemon. What set him apart from anyone else, is that he unconditionally trusted it and acted upon it. In this dire circumstance, he asked whether he should leave. Lo and behold, his conscience told him to stay.
Socrates was surprised, distraught even. But he understood. It was time to make amends, tie up loose ends and bring closure to his fortunate and rich life. He lived aligned with a higher truth, and up to this day we remember him for his courage, righteousness, and philosophy. So how do you secure the truth and live in line with your moral compass?
By conscious self-reflection and self-questioning.
If we assume or believe life to be inherently filled with dichotomies, such as “no light without darkness”, “as above, so below,” and “no ego without shadow,” is there such a thing as neutral, balanced or untouched? Something like a tabula rasa?
Although imperfect, we get very close to this idea when we consider children. I don’t know about you, but I can’t help but smile and wonder when I see a little baby. It is innocence en pura forma. It seems the closest version of something makeable, like potential. The baby can still become anything and therefore has a divine touch to it.
So here is the practical matter about this.
When you’re wondering about the dubiousness of an action or statement, pose yourself an inner question: “Could I look my kid in the eyes, and tell them this, or tell them to do this? Upon derailing from our path of conscience, I hope this meditative exercise leads you back to a righteous moral path of truth and speaking potential into being.
This inner question acts as a mediator for our inner war. The war between the Shadow and Ego. The question facilitates a fine balance between a state of order, with boredom as default, and chaos, where everything becomes unpredictable and eventually unbearable. The Ego and Shadow are enduring aspects of our being, but, as they will clash, war is inevitable. All we can try to reach for, is a truce.
A truce means you know your two inner forces are equally powerful, have strong energies and can bring out both the best and the worst in you. Therefore, you accept them, because dominance of one can lead to annihilation of both, and thus you and your potential. This is exactly played out in the canonical story of Abel and Cain, where Abel represents pure goodness and Cain represents evil. Instead of using his jealousy as an internal motivator, Cain decides to destroy all goodness in Abel and with that, the potential within himself.
Rather than consciously denying our shadow side, allowing it to bring out the worst in us, we should wage the war. We should face our dark side, and let these forces charge us with energy. We should stare into the darkness, slay the dragons, and find our gold. And once we find our gold, let us share it. Let us share from our scars, not from the wounds.
I shall stop speaking and start seeking.
I shall stop writing and start fighting.
To those who read this, may your conscience guide you.
- Nicolaas Jozef van Disseldorp.
Gambetta, D. (Ed.) (1988). Trust: Making and breaking cooperative relations.
Landes, D. S. (1998). The Wealth and Poverty of Nations. Abacus.
Lewicki, R. J., & Wiethoff, C. (2000). Trust, trust development, and trust repair. In M. Deutsch & P. T. Coleman (Eds.), The handbook of conflict resolution: Theory and practice (p. 86–107). JosseyBass/Wiley.
Dante Alighieri, 1265-1321. (1935). The divine comedy of Dante Alighieri : Inferno, Purgatory, Paradise. New York: The Union Library Association
This essay was written by Extraordinary Life’s co-Founder Niek van Disseldorp for an international essay competition. It landed him a spot in the top 100 entries, allowing him entrance to the St. Gallen Symposium.