Learning to trust

Learning to trust

To create deep and enduring relationships, our love must develop into mutual trust.


I  have been reflecting recently that it is a lot easier to love another person than it is to trust that person. I feel compassion for people I have never met. You can have compassion for me without trusting me. Empathy and compassion are the foundation of morality and of our ability to live together. A year ago at General Assembly, Karen Armstrong spoke compellingly about compassion during her Ware Lecture. Love is at the center of our faith. We stand on the side of love. Our capacity to act for justice and with kindness comes from our ability to feel compassion.

Love is wonderful.

But love that is only a feeling of compassion is not enough. That emotion is only the beginning. Love has to grow. Love has to act. To act, to create deep and enduring relationships in a family, a congregation, or a religious movement, our love must develop into mutual trust.

I once heard a fellow say, with a note of exasperation, that there are basically two kinds of meetings—meetings that are a preparation for action and meetings that are a substitute for action. I have been in both kinds, the good and the bad.

When I leave one of those meetings that feels like a substitute for action, I come away frustrated. When I leave a meeting that is preparation for some important action, everyone comes away excited and energized. When a gathering leads to something good, trust is always present. We cannot act effectively unless we trust one another.

I wish we UUs could learn to trust each other more. Just imagine the power and energy we would liberate! If we truly trusted one another we would feel so much better about ourselves, about each other, and about our religious communities. We would do so much more good in our world. We would discuss less and do more.

Reflect for a moment about a time someone put his or her trust in you. Recall a time when someone believed in you enough to say, “I know you can do this; I have complete faith in you.” What an empowering message that is. What a precious gift we give when you or I place our trust in someone else.

We talk a lot about the centrality of covenant in our faith, about how we are united in covenant rather than by a creed. A covenant is a mutual promise, a mutual commitment. Trust makes covenant possible. I cannot enter into a covenant with someone I do not trust. Where trust is strong, a covenant is durable. Where trust is weak, words of a covenant mean little.

Yet there is a strong tradition of distrust in our movement. We were born in rebellion against oppressive religious and civil authorities who had betrayed trust. We have inherited a strong antiauthoritarian streak. Some­times that is good. Often it isn’t. I have seen way too many UU meetings where we process things to death and think we have to involve everybody and her dog before making a decision. The result is timidity and lost opportunity.

Learning to earn one another’s trust and to empower one another is ultimately a spiritual practice. I can only trust you if I am willing to let go of some control. I can only trust you if I stop insisting on doing everything my way. We can only earn each other’s trust if we take time to know one another. Trust has to grow over a period of time. It has to be nurtured. Trust is what love looks like when it has matured, when love has deepened, when love aspires to a common purpose.

The next time you gather with your fellow UUs, ask yourself how much you trust them and how much they trust you. What can you do to grow trust, to empower one another?

Together we can do amazing things. Together we can create the world we dream of. But we can only do all this if we learn to trust one another.

This article appeared in the Fall 2012 issue of UU World (page 5).

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