Trust and The Golden Rule

I did a fantastic job following the Golden Rule yesterday, largely because the only people I saw were my eightysomething mother and the twentysomething barista at the coffee bar. And, yes, I was able to be nice to both of them. Somehow, I don’t think it’s going to be this easy the rest of the year.

Also, thanks to everyone for the great conversation about the meaning of the Golden Rule. (Commentators noted: If the Golden Rule means doing unto others as you want to be done unto, then don’t we run the risk of ignoring other people’s wishes? How the heck do you know if what you want is what someone else wants? We have to take care of ourselves first before we can be there for other people. Stress can undermine our effort to be good, and yes, we need to reframe our irritations and angers into positive statements to avoid strangling each other. )

But the topic for today is trust — that is, trust and the Golden Rule. How can I treat others  as nicely as I want to be treated if I fear that they are going to stab me in the neck — either literally or metaphorically — while I’m standing around being pleasant to them?

I’ve been thinking a lot about trust as my dance card as an independent writer and editor has filled up. Right now I’m working with several different clients who are scattered around the country. They all seem great, but I’m uneasy.

To be clear, so far none of them has given me a clear reason to worry. It’s my past, or more specifically, my checkered past in the workplace that’s making my heart pound. I’ve taken direct hits in the Office Politics Wars as both staffer and freelancer. Heck, twice I’ve even been collateral damage. I wasn’t the target, but my paycheck went away as I got caught in somebody else’s power struggle.

So, here’s a question for you all (and please do help me with this): Must I trust other people to apply the Golden Rule to them? If I decide that I don’t trust them, then what exactly does Golden Rule-ish behavior look like?

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3 Responses to Trust and The Golden Rule

  1. Kelley says:

    Just last night this issue came up for me in a startling way…a person came to our door asking for some gasoline because they’d run out of gas here in the rural area where we live…this isn’t a strange occurrence out here, but there was definitely something “off” about the guy and everything in my intuition said to be very, very careful. I did not trust him, yet felt compelled to apply the Golden Rule by helping. So, my spouse & I did several things differently than we would have if trust had been present for us, including keeping the person at a distance, etc, although we did help with the gas. However, afterwards we had such a strange feeling about the experience that we filed a report with the police giving the license #, description, etc, & found out that our neighbors had just had an odd encounter with him only minutes before.

    My point is that trust is a very big issue on many levels and sometimes the Golden Rule means, perhaps, to use compassion wisely and NOT at your own peril. We certainly weren’t cruel to the person at our door, but were very cautious. The other point that is surfacing for me as I write this is ALWAYS trust your intuition, even if you question it. That little wave of discomfort that washes over you might just be life saving and is there for a reason.

  2. Linda Herzberg says:

    I am here with my mom and sister and we talked about trust and the Golden Rule. My sister says that if you don’t have trust, you can still live the Golden Rule. She gave an example of a woman she knew who would use her baby to try to obtain money. If she said she needed diapers for her baby, my sister said she would buy a package of diapers, open them and change the baby’s diaper (the woman could not take the diapers back to exchange for money). If the woman said her baby need formula, my sister would buy the formula and make a bottle for the baby (she would buy a bottle if the woman did not have a bottle with her) and then the woman could not take the formula back.

    Mom brought up the idea that you need to have boundaries when applying the Golden Rule, both when you have trust and when you don’t. When living the Golden Rule, you must take care of yourself, as well as helping others. If you focus too much on others, you will not be able to keep up your own health, physical or mental.

    I agre with both. I have worked with many people that most would not trust; those who are parents with children in foster care. Some I would trust with little problem. Others I would never trust as they were on drugs, or lied often. I always knew that when you were dealing with someone’s children there was always the possibility that they would lie to me. I would give the person the benefit of the doubt, but would have to check out everything they said.

    With what I have read about business, you are better off having several streams of revenue. It sounds like you are doing that. With several lines of revenue you will still have a line if one dries up or they “back stab” you.

    I agree with Kelly, that you should always follow your instincts. There is a book called The Gift of Fear, written by a profiler for the FBI. It is a good book about how women are taught to be polite and criminals take advantage of that. It also talks about how to use your own intuition and some ideas to be polite but protect yourself from the criminals. I would recommend anyone read it.

    As you go through the freelance writing, you will find some people/businesses are trustworthy and some are not. You will need to remember that sometimes it is not personal (untrustworthy) but is strictly a business decision. In those situations it would be extremely easy to think they were backstabbing you but you have to keep that business boundary around you. No matter how friendly or how “trustworthy” they are you must remember that it is a business, not a totally friendship relationship.

  3. My first thought when reading Kelley’s response was about trusting your intuition as explained in The Gift of Fear, and then Linda brought it up. One of the key points Gavin de Becker makes in that book is that if your instinct tells you there’s something wrong, there probably is. To protect yourself, it’s important to act on your instinct, even if you’re not sure why you feel that way. I don’t think the Golden Rule requires us to go along with people who are out to scam us, much less to harm us. In a situation in which your instinct — or previous experience — tells you that you shouldn’t trust the person, it’s not a violation of the Golden Rule to say no.

    Certainly we’d all like the people we deal with to trust us, but I don’t think the Golden Rule requires us to trust people who don’t appear trustworthy. It’s enough to be polite.

    In the work world, it can get complicated. Despite the prevalence of incredibly detailed contracts, business transactions do depend on trust. When you’re dealing with someone untrustworthy, you can insist on detailed contracts and so forth, but if the other person is really dishonest, that will probably just leave you with a lawsuit.

    In most cases, you should probably approach business transactions with a spirit of trust. If you find you can’t trust someone you’re dealing with, the Golden Rule doesn’t require you to pretend you can, nor does it require you to lay all your cards on the table if the other person might abuse that trust. It requires you to deal professionally with the situation — including pulling out of the deal if there’s a big problem.

    One thing about the Golden Rule: it only governs your behavior. You may not get treated properly in return, but there’s nothing you can do to control that. We all get screwed over from time to time, often for reasons that have nothing to do with us or anything we’ve done wrong to others. I suspect treating all people decently and with respect will have payoffs and protect us from some bad actions, but it’s not a vaccine against bad things happening to us.

    It occurs to me that I should consider applying the Golden Rule when dealing with telemarketers and their ilk. I screamed at one at my father’s house only the other day; nothing makes me froth at the mouth more than all the scams and even legal pleas for money targeted at elderly people, not to mention my general dislike for uninvited sales calls. I suppose I need to practice saying politely “please don’t ever call this number again.”

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