In Consolations*, David Whyte takes the reader on an exploration of words. The book is subtitled “The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words.” The dedication reads:
Dedicated to WORDS and their beautiful hidden and beckoning uncertainties
I don’t think I could find a more beautiful and expressive way to explain why I so love having a word of the year. My word for 2022 is “Trust.”
The uncertainties surrounding this word indeed beckon me! The more I explored the topic early in the year, the more confused I became. I drafted this post back in early February. Since then my family suffered an upset that has required a new and unfolding relationship with trust, but I’ll talk about that another time. But on to my original exploration of the word!
Trust can mean so many things:
It can mean allowing myself to let go of fear to bodily do something even though it scares me.
I remember the trusting game where someone leads you around, blindfolded, with a gently guiding arm or directions in your ear. You have to trust that they won’t let you do something dangerous. And another where you stand in the middle of a tight circle, place your hands across your chest, stiffen your body, and allow (force) yourself to fall into the arms of those surrounding you, trusting them to catch you.
When I was younger, I found it easier to trust. I was less afraid of getting hurt! Because, let’s be honest, I didn’t have much experience with hurt.
On a deeper level, trust involves the safely of my mind, the values I hold, and the conclusions I draw from information I am given. In other words, my trust is a belief in the integrity of another.
I need to trust my news channel to have done the proper research and give me an unbiased rendition of the truth. I admit I don’t. I don’t trust anyone (let alone the media) to give an unbiased view of anything. With rare exceptions I expect to be manipulated by politicians or, really, anyone in power. A person or news source may tell me the truth, but do they tell me the whole truth or do they hide from me what they don’t want me to know? Because perhaps they are afraid that if I know the whole truth, I won’t respect them any more or like them, or I will blow the information out of proportion and put it in an incorrect context, and their whole power source will blow up into smithereens. They don’t, in other words, trust me to be smart, rational, and forgiving.
Is trust the same thing as optimism? “I trust all will be well.”
Is it the same thing as faith?
Does trust even have to be positive? Does distrusting something mean that you can’t depend on its happening or, more negatively, that you expect an outcome that is downright unpleasant? Or can you trust that someone will be a jerk?
As a wordsmith, this is driving me a little zooey.
I haven’t really gotten much closer to figuring out how I feel about the word. Except it’s loaded with emotional baggage for me. So I remain intrigued.
Earning trust. Someone recently told me that my trust issues are what creates drama in an organization I’m involved in. She told me she knows that people have to earn my trust. “No!” I said. It felt like an accusation. “I trust people until they break my trust–but then I admit it’s hard to win it back.”
[As an aside, David Whyte (remember the poet I quote at the beginning of this post?) claims “Denial” is invaluable to humans, because often we need time to take in the stressors of reality, and denial is how we give ourselves that distance. When you’re ready to accept reality, you will.]
Anyway, with distance and a bit of time, I’m ready to acknowledge that I don’t leap into trusting people, and I think that is just as normal as can be. I think most of us have devised subconscious little tests for people we engage with to see what kind of trust they rate. That’s what profiling is all about, be it racist or agist or economic or about the political signs they have plastered on their property. We assume that because someone is one thing, then they are likely to be another (and another and another and another) and therefore we’re more or less willing to trust them.
Trusting others is a skill. It takes practice. It takes a willing suspension of distrust. I, like so many in our world, have allowed my trust muscle to get flabby. And trust is a muscle that needs to be exercised.
But why does it matter? Surely it’s safer not to trust others, safer not to trust that chair or the rule of law or what a news source is telling you.
Maybe you start wearing a t-shirt to remind you not to trust.
The older we get, the more experience we have with people and things and our bodies failing us. With experience comes fear. I know the cost of misplaced trust, which can devastate me: physically, I can break if you let me fall; psychically, emotionally, it’s my heart that breaks. Distrust builds.
And yet as I age and grow more vulnerable, the more I must trust others. It’s a great irony. If I give up on trust, I’m giving up on getting anything done. I’m giving up on having adventures and meaningful relationships. I’m giving up on life.
And these days, even if you give up on life, you have to trust someone else to stand up for your wishes voiced in your advanced directive!
Conclusion: trust is an important skill to cultivate and strengthen. But it’s complicated! And that, my friends, is what makes it a good word for the year.
*Whyte, David. Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words. Many Rivers Press, 2015.