Who to trust these days?

 Who to trustYou discover that the popular celebrity you like and have enjoyed watching on television has a dark side, abusing his position to engage in predatory sexual contact with children. Not only do you feel betrayed by him but also by the broadcasters who turned a blind eye. It makes you wonder who to trust.

You want to applaud your favourite sporting heroes but there is that lingering doubt. Did they cheat to win, unfairly seek an advantage by taking a phoney dive on the playing field, or use performance enhancing drugs to beat their rivals?

You have a problem with the car, or the house roof, or you suffer tooth pain. Who to trust   — the mechanic, builder, or dentist not to exaggerate the problem and thus the cost? You want to develop your business by taking on extra staff but surveys find that  employers report nearly half of the CV’s received contained lies and over half of all employees admit phoning in sick when they weren’t.

We live in sceptical times but life has always been about mutual dependence. We all need to rely on other people to a varying extent. But will people really do what they say they will do? Who to trust that will keep secret that personal information you shared? Who to trust to look after your pet properly when you are away?  Choosing who to count on isn’t always easy.

Yes, you try to be right about people. So you use common sense to size people up, taking account of their track record and you don’t go into something with someone with your eyes closed. We learn to read other people. We acquire skills in social perception detecting those individuals who get irritable and easily offended when criticised, or who will respect the spirit of constructive criticism even when not agreeing with it. We realise that the person who gossips to you about others is likely to be the sort of person who may gossip about you too behind your back.

You may pause before deciding who to trust if your fellow workers are not open about their feelings. You may be doubtful who to trust if you find out the people you are with are critical of you behind your back. Likewise if they use evasion, spin and weasel words or choose email, or a text message to convey difficult messages to you.

Someone may do none of these damaging things. However, even when the signs are very good, you can never know enough about someone to be absolutely sure of them. When it comes down to it, life is just not risk-free. No matter how hard you consider the character of likely individuals, in the end it is a risk who you take on to look after your children, who to ask to mend the chimney, who to lend money to.

Of course, when it comes to personal relationships the issue of trust is more complex. Who do you try to get closer to? This is likely to be someone you want to spend more time with; the kind of person who has similar interests, and shares your values and principles. If a personal relationship is to start someone has got to make the first move and if it is to grow someone has to make further moves. For all you know, your friendly overtures may be snubbed, or you voicing an uncomfortable truth to someone may result in your head being bitten off.  Playing safe all the time never won a fair lady. You don’t get trust because you earn it; you get it because you give it. Take the risk of showing trust to someone and you may be trusted in return.

Most people have probably been let down by someone some time in their life. But to expect otherwise is to believe in the illusion of a perfect trusting relationship. You would end up always worrying about who to trust. If there were always a wonderful understanding between people and complete commitment, there would never be any pain of conflict and personal hurt. Experience teaches differently. But life goes on and we are obliged to take some chances with people.

One view is that trusting others involves an attitude towards life and that trusting life is something that goes beyond a reaction to how someone treats us. Trusting in life is no guarantee that nothing painful will occur. But it is preferring the chance of being hurt and let down once in a while to the alternative of living in fear and suspicion; of not having to try to protect yourself from all eventualities. Psychotherapist Scott Peck has said that the attempt to avoid legitimate suffering lies at the root of all emotional illness. One’s path in life is unknown and unpredictable. Without some trust in the journey, one is always going to be distrustful and suspicious.

I believe one useful motto in line with all this is to prepare for the worst but hope for the best.

Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Criticise them – But how to do so safely?

criticiseYes it can happen. No one likes their faults to be pointed out and some people with thin skins when you criticise them see this as a personal attack. They get shirty, defensive or bite your head off. You probably would think twice before taking the risk of saying what you really think to them. Yet keeping quiet means not doing anything about the problem.


“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” (Winston Churchill)

So what’s the best way to criticise someone?

Shirley needed to criticise her neighbour

Shirley was really getting fed up with her new next door neighbour who played his music loudly some nights after coming home from shift-work. Once, she had called round to ask him to turn the volume down, which was done, but the level of loudness would resume another night. It probably wasn’t bad enough to make a complaint to the local authority. The adjoining walls of their homes were not sound-proofed. She  had heard from someone that her neighbour could turn nasty if provoked. How could she deal with the problem which was upsetting her a lot?

Next time Shirley tackled the guy, she wasn’t sure she could trust herself not to shout and lose her temper. When you criticise it is important to keep the matter in proportion, neither overdoing things, nor being too timid. If she were to come over as arrogant, curt or annoyed, she probably wouldn’t be listened to properly. And were she to resort to insults and hostility the chances are the door would be slammed in her face.

How not to criticise

A Laurel and Hardy comedy comes to mind when the two friends engaged in a tit-for-tat war with their neighbour, each side doing things to damage the next door property, with the punishing actions mounting, until the ludicrous outcome was the destruction of both homes.

The film comically showed the pitfalls of an unkind attitude — using the opportunity to make the critic feel superior or perhaps want to provoke or vent a bit of anger. Shirley could soften her criticism by saying things like “I have made the same mistake myself…” It avoids showing any air of superiority.

Criticise showing respect

The common advice psychologists give is “Respect the individual, and focus the criticism on the behaviour that needs changing – on what people actually do or actually say.”

Good criticism generally comes with some degree of humility and respect for the  possibility of other equally valid points of view. In other words Shirley is advised to refrain from any criticism of the person but merely of the noise he makes. Giving respect means not assuming that he is being thoughtless, inconsiderate, or selfish.
Perhaps he is hard of hearing and doesn’t appreciate how others find loud noise annoying.

Once you start to jump to conclusions about someone’s character then you are liable to show this in how you talk to them revealing sarcasm, anger, hostility or condescension. People hear how you say things more than they hear what you say. You mainly communicate through the tone of voice and facial expressions.

Also choosing the right words still matter.

“You can disagree without being disagreeable.” (Zig Ziglar)

Criticise in a precise way

It is important to explain what it is that the other person is doing that is a problem for you and how you feel about it. Don’t say ‘You are causing me grief’ but say ‘I feel the noise is causing me grief.’

If the individual is respected with a bit of humour, and due credit is given to the possibility of their sympathy for your difficulty, it is vastly more likely that the criticism will be understood, and taken seriously.

To criticise can be less difficult

Shirley had the disadvantage of not knowing the person she wanted to criticize. It is easier to point out a fault if you have an ongoing friendly relationship with the person. You have a greater chance of counting on their sympathy or embarrassment. At least she could try to get into rapport with the neighbour before voicing her issue. Perhaps if she invited him into her own house when somebody else was also present when his music was on then her neighbour could more easily appreciate the nuisance he was causing.

When a relationship has already turned sour, then it may need a bit of patience, waiting before the right time and place arrive to make a fair criticism. It may take considerable effort to create the situation in which the criticism will be “heard”. On the other hand if the relationship between enemies is so bad the best thing may be to get a mediator for justice.

“Virtues which have to do with … moral wisdom … have various names, and they are called … integrity, kindliness, friendliness, modesty, honesty, helpfulness, courteousness; … not to mention many others…. In all of these justice and judgment prevail.” (Conjugial Love section 164 by Emanuel Swedenborg)

Copyright 2012 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems