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On Trust and Expectation

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I don’t trust anyone more than what I have to. This is not because I’m some ornery old fart that has been burned in his life more times than he can count but because I see no reason to trust others more than is absolutely necessary. I must trust the bus driver who carts me around, I must trust the elevator repair men that work on the lifts in my building, I must trust the asshole living next door to not go to bed smoking a cigarette and burn the entire place down. I must trust in situations that I have no control over, but in situations that I do control trust is not something I readily outsource to others.

puppets in Oaxaca Mexico

Trust is a big word. It has many different connotations, many different implications. For this article what I mean by trust is an approach to situations, places, or people where you don’t prepare for potentially onerous, risky, or dangerous outcomes. If you trust a situation you don’t think about it going haywire; if you trust a place then you don’t prepare for it becoming dangerous; if you trust a person then you don’t imagine them letting you down. This article focuses on trusting people, as this is where we often stand to lose the most.

There are far too many people on the planet who are embittered and angry because they got burned by someone they trusted. More often than not they imparted trust to someone unnecessarily and the person did not live up to expectations. Giving others the opportunity to burn you is one of the great builders of relationship. When you give a friend your credit card number and they don’t wipe out your account you feel more secure with this friend — you feel like they can be trusted. You can then make a projection that this person won’t steal from you in the future. But I don’t understand why anybody would even give someone the chance to rob them in in the first place.

Why would anyone want to open themselves up to getting betrayed? This is like baiting someone to see how much you can trust them. Which may be a good test, but I’m not convinced that the results have any real value. I would rather not trust and not be betrayed and remain happy and content with my friends than give anyone the opportunity to burn me.

By cutting out trust and expectation I eliminate a large portion of problems from my life.

I don’t have problems with people. I travel the world, meet tons of people, make lots of friends, have maintained many friendships for decades, and I never have any problems. I’m also married, and I have not yet had a problem with my wife any larger than a bickering match over whose going to do the dishes. I wake up each day and my mind is clear, I have no feuds, no issues, no people problems. I make friends for life.

I believe this is because I don’t trust or place over-bearing expectations on anyone. Trust and expectation are pretty much the same thing, and they are both built on evaluating someone’s past actions and using them as a pattern to project their future actions. This model is only as good as the fact that people are forever unchanging and that future situations will always be synonomous with past ones — two scenarios that are simply not always going to happen. The world is always in flux and myself, my friends, and everyone I know and meet are a part of this great churning cycle. It would drive me crazy to always need to be fully evaluating each situation I come to in my life so I need to use past patterns to help guide my way. But rather than dividing the people in my life between those I trust and those I don’t I call off the whole deal and I don’t unnecessarily trust anybody. This is not a matter of fear or trepidation, but one of mental and emotional placidity.

It’s not that I don’t trust people, it’s that I don’t needlessly entrust them. 

I remember how I once offended my friend Cihan when I was staying in his apartment in Istanbul. I’d just met him and was couchsurfing at his place, and when I went outside I would throw a padlock on my backpack. He noticed the lock and questioned me about it. I found it difficult to explain that the lock wasn’t there because I didn’t trust him but because I didn’t want to burden my mind with debating whether I should trust him or not. I tried to explain that it was just something I did in most all situations because I didn’t want to waste time and energy thinking about it, that it was just a standard operating procedure.

I’ve found it easier to follow a standard operating procedure of not trusting than worrying about trusting. I’d rather take precautions about something and forget about it than go through the mental drama of debating whether a situation is worthy of trust or not. Not only does this clear my mind but it also inhibits the 1/ 100 possibility that I could be needlessly burned. If I do all that I can reasonably do to prevent something onerous from happening to me then my mind is free of burden — hey, I did all I could — but if I open myself up to harm by needlessly trusting others then that just wouldn’t bode well with me.

I want to continue waking up in the morning clear-headed, without any feuds, with no issues, and no people problems. I want to be able to go out in the world and focus on what is in front of me rather than wondering if I can really trust someone or not. I want to spend my time pondering the mysteries of the planet rather than being bitter about that dude who never paid back my money or that girl who dipped her fingers into my money pouch and gave me the slip. I don’t want to have problems so I don’t wantonly put myself in problematic situations.

“They cleaned me out, took everything I own.”

This is one of the most common rants that I hear so often from various expats drinking down their sorrows in some tropical nosedive or other. They tend to be embittered men, upset with others and upset with their lives because they trusted and got burned. Either their ex-wives robbed them, a business partner cheated them, or The Man screwed them over. They entrust someone else with fault for their fall from grace. They feel as if they were wronged, as though the patterns of the cosmos were unaligned and they were custom picked to be struck with a bum deal.

You got screwed because you set yourself up be screwed, it’s your fault, not theirs.

I want to always get along with my wife, I don’t want problems, so I preemptively nip off potential issues before they can begin. I don’t entrust her needlessly, but this does not mean that she isn’t worthy of trust. To the contrary, she’s the most trustworthy person I know, which is why I don’t want to risk losing her.

Trusting someone gives them the burden of responsibility to always live up to your expectations. Why bother doing this when you don’t have to? I don’t have to put my wife on my bank account, I don’t have to give her my email password, I don’t have to do everything jointly with her to have a happy marriage. It’s just not necessary, so why would I want to burden someone with my trust when I don’t have to?

This goes against the tides of my culture, the way I live is looked upon as being stooge-like, paranoid, suspicious, and sad. The idea of trust is revered in US culture, it’s held on this high pedestal that we are programmed to try to grasp. It is an idea that is marketed as having value, but I don’t know why. I don’t get it. I’m 31 years old, I’ve been traveling for 13 years, and I’ve never seen the advantage of trusting and entrusting others when you don’t have to.

The simple fact of the matter is that the happiest people I know in this world are those who have not wrapped themselves up in complex webs of trust and expectation. Keeping things simple is perhaps a prerequisite of happiness.

I expect nothing from anyone other than what they are willing to give, and I make sure that nobody expects anything of me other than what I readily provide. This is called respecting a person’s individual parameters, which I find to be essential for friendship. We are all what we are, and there is little reason to make anymore of it than what it is. I would rather not trust and place expectations on my friends and stay friends with them then give them the chance to betray me and ruin our friendship.

If I let someone borrow something of mine and they ruin it, that’s my fault for lending it to them. Punto. I can’t expect others to fend for me, I must fend for myself and what I value. If I trust someone with something I value then I must accept the risk that they may damage it. If I’m OK with that risk, then I must not get angry if it does come to pass. After all, it’s useless to fault anybody in this world for anything other than myself.

If I am burned I want to be able to blame myself. This gives me control of my world. I leave as few things in my life as possible in the hands of others, but when I do I accept full responsibility of the potential consequences. If a friend screws me over, if my wife betrays me, if someone lets me down I want to blame myself for entrusting them with my responsibilities. I don’t sit around moaning and blaming others for my misfortunes, I find fault in myself because I can correct and change myself. This gives me power over my world.

I have power over myself, I do not have power over others. This gives me the illusion of having control of my present and my future, and allows me to get along with people better because I don’t entrap them in needless expectations or expose them to blame.

My friends mean too much to me to put them in glass houses of unnecessary trust. 

I do not place a code of proper behavior over my friends, I know no moral high-ground, I don’t need a criteria of good and bad to navigate my world. I expect nothing from anyone other than what they provide. I don’t entrust people when I don’t have to, and I move through the world with a lightness of gait, a mind ready to observe and devour what is right in front of me, and no people problems.

Everybody needs to trust people everyday — especially in travel. No amount of caution is going to change this fact, but this doesn’t mean that you have to put yourself out to get burned when you simply don’t have to.

What’s your take?

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Filed under: Travel Philosophy

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3053 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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