Linda Downing

Who do you trust?

If a person says, “Trust me on this,” usually we can’t. Knowing where to place our trust can be the difference between honor or dishonor, victory or defeat, even life or death.

Trusting the experts cost France $68 million recently. Engineers working for the French railway network built 341 new trains but forgot to measure the distance between tracks and platforms. It is a few inches too narrow to accommodate the trains. The quote from the president of the rail infrastructure is priceless: The problem “was discovered a little late.”

Timing is important when it comes to trust, and it cannot be forced. Too little too late is a sorry tale. Whoever posted a YouTube video titled, “The World’s Ugliest Woman,” may or may not have known that Lizzie Velasquez is blind in one eye and suffers from a rare disease that makes gaining weight impossible. The damage could have been catastrophic, perhaps hurt or stress worsening Velasquez’ disease or bringing about her suicide.

Knowing who to trust and not trust lifted Velasquez above circumstances, causing her to become a popular author and motivational speaker. Her confidence is independent of other people or her own abilities or disabilities. Rather, she credits her belief in God who, she says, “blessed me with the greatest blessing of my life, which is my syndrome.” Instead of negative mistrust that can sour us on life in general, Velasquez used rightly placed trust.

Trying to force-feed beliefs squelches trust. In May a group of students at Haverford College outside Philadelphia campaigned against allowing Robert Birgeneau, former chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, to speak at commencement. They objected to the way he used police to handle an on-campus student protest in 2011. Their demands that Birgeneau, who was supposed to receive an honorary degree from Haverford, would apologize, support payments to victims, and write a letter to them on “what he had learned” from the situation, earned an abrupt “no.”

Stripping someone of dignity destroys trust. Writing for Conde Nast Traveler, Chitra Divakaruni tells of her conviction that allowing a rickshaw puller to transport her was demeaning and wrong. But, when she offered to pay the man anyway, he refused, saying, “I’m not a beggar.” Divakaruni writes that the man walked away “with a deep and simple dignity.”

Sometimes to build trust we must forgo enforcing our definition of the “right thing” because others cannot understand our motives. Thomas B. Macaulay, 19th century historian, wrote: “A man who should act, for one day, on the supposition that all the people about him were influenced by the religion which they professed, would find himself ruined before night.” That is not cynicism; it is a warning that wisdom demands we be stingy with our trust. Catastrophes abound to demonstrate the folly of misplaced trust. It only takes considering one’s own character to understand that human beings are not always trustworthy. The “experts” fail; the cruel harm; the arrogant garner hostility. Even our deeply held convictions are suspect. The biblical advice never fails: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). Or, as Dr. Phil says: “Pick a horse and ride it.” Finding truth requires the right starting point. That is the quest of this column. If we seek simple truth, we can find it together—side-by-side.

Linda M. Downing is a freelance writer. Contact her at