The Truth About Trust: A book review by Bob Morris

Truth About TrustThe Truth About Trust: How It Determines Success in Life, Love, Learning, and More
David DeSteno
Hudson Street Press/The Penguin Group (2014)

A rigorous and extensive exploration of what we do and don’t know about the role of trust in our lives

According to David DeSteno, “The same forces that determine whether someone else will be honest and loyal also impinge on our own minds. Assessing the trustworthiness of another and acting trustworthy ourselves, then, are simply two sides of the same coin. Understanding how to predict and control the flip of that coin is what this book is all about.” My own opinion is that, in all relationships, trust (or the lack of it) trumps all other considerations but I hasten to add a word of caution: In a universe within which there are more opinions than neurons, it is possible to believe that someone is truthful when insisting that the world is flat but that does not require us to believe that such an opinion is true. Trusting honesty and trusting judgment are two entirely different phenomena…and pose entirely different challenges when subjected to verification.

As DeSteno carefully explains in his thoughtful and thought-provoking book, the element of trust can be found at all levels and in all areas of human experience. “Our minds didn’t evolve in a social vacuum. Humans evolved in social groups, and that means that the minds of our ancestors were sculpted by the challenges posed by living with others on whom they depended. Chief among those challenges was the need to solve dilemmas of trust correctly. And it’s precisely because of this fact that the human mind constantly tries to ascertain the trustworthiness of others while also weighing the need to be trustworthy itself. Your conscious experience may not correspond with this fact, but again that’s because much of the relevant computations are automatic and take place outside of awareness.”

These are among the dozens of business subjects and issues of special interest and value to me, also listed to indicate the scope of DeSteno’s coverage.

o What Is Trust, Anyway? (Pages 1-6)
o Reputation Isn’t What It Used to Be (16-21)
o The Monkey Economy (46-52)
o Trusting to Learn (63-68)
o Learning to Trust (77-85)
o Love: What’s Trust Got to Do With It? (93-97)
o Unleashing the Green-Eyed Monster (110-121)
o Power Corrupts (133-137)
o Power Corrupts, Unless It Doesn’t (141-144)
o The Blind Men and the Elephant (151-155)
o Follow the Leader (170-175)
o Chatting with Proteus (188-196)
o Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who’s the Fairest One of All? (210-213)
o Yes, But…(221-225)
o The Rules of Trust (237-243)

With regard to “The Rules of Trust,” DeSteno suggests six and they are eminently sensible. Here they are, each accompanied by my annotation.

1. Trust is risky but necessary, useful, and even powerful.
As with judgment, it must be developed, strengthened, and managed.

2. Remember that trust permeates almost every area of life.
However, the nature and extent of its durability may differ…sometimes significantly.

3. Don’t examine reputation, examine motives.
Also, verification should rely more on behavior than on reassurance.

4. Pay attention to your intuitions.
Be alert to non-verbal cues (e.g. body language and tone of voice).

5. Appreciate the benefits of illusion.
Tolerate insignificant imperfection to sustain an otherwise sound relationship.

6. Cultivate trust from the bottom up.
Raising the general level of trust in a group must be a collaborative process of live-and-learn.

When concluding his thoughtful and thought-provoking book, David DeSteno urges the adoption of a bifurcated approach to increasing trustworthiness between, among, and within all of us: “We need to embrace principles to which we aspire while also augmenting and leveraging the innate, intuitive mechanisms that increase our empathy for others. We need not only to think about trust, we need to feel it. And while this tactic certainly won’t make the world a utopia, it will nudge it in that direction. Trust me.” I do.

More to the point, I trust all of us…one at a time.

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