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On Trust and Expectation

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 [...]

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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?


Filed under: Travel Philosophy

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3691 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: Trenton, Maine

16 comments… add one

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  • mike crosby August 16, 2012, 2:06 am

    I like this.

    There are so many ways to get burned. I vote on the side of vigilance.

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  • John August 16, 2012, 7:46 am


    Wade, I think you might like some of the ideas discussed in this TEDtalk. Its somewhat different context to what you are referring to, from the personal to the political. You did however, elaborate that this philsophy could be applied to life. So I thought it might be a relevant suggestion.

    I believe you have very unique perspective on the issue of trust.

    But, I can’t help but feel like it doesn’t fully explore the issue. Trust and empathy are uniquely connected for example….

    Also, isn’t the ability to not trust something that really belongs to white, often male privileged individuals?

    I don’t know many women who don’t have to trust men they sleep in the same room they are with to not assault them. This isn’t their fault that this potential for harm to occur. That would be victim blaming, and I think that having trust in a society, especially a political system is necessary. I think that not everyone is as you are, and that trust is a necessity for functioning lives and possibly democracies.

    Interesting idea, and I definitely will keep the issue of self-reliance in context to trust in my future travel adventures.


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    • Wade Shepard August 16, 2012, 9:28 am

      Will definitely check out that video.

      But to respond to your comments first:

      “Trust and empathy are uniquely connected for example….”

      I don’t think the two are related. For example, you can have empathy for some cracked out home-bum but that doesn’t mean you’re going to trust him with your wallet.

      “Also, isn’t the ability to not trust something that really belongs to white, often male privileged individuals?”

      How so? I don’t get where you’re coming from here.

      “I don’t know many women who don’t have to trust men they sleep in the same room they are with to not assault them.”

      Sure, this is where not trusting and preparing for the worst comes in pretty handy. Far too often women put themselves in compromising situations because they feel compelled (or want) to trust people they shouldn’t.

      “that would be victim blaming”

      Of course, and this is a positive step towards making sure bad situations don’t repeat themselves. In many cases victims should be blamed (I glad you brought this up, I had an entire section on this that I cut out) because they screwed up somehow and put themselves into bad situations. We all need to take responsibility for ourselves first, evaluate how we’re received in a certain place in a certain time, and take the best course of action for ourselves. Or, as Gar put it, “A person should do whatever they want to do as long as they’re willing to face the consequences.”

      By analyzing where social mistakes were made that led to a poor outcome an individual can take proper measures to make sure that they see the warning signs in advance the next time around (if they want to).

      If something bad happens to me I blame myself. Punto. It’s my fault not someone else’s, I put myself into the situation and I need to deal with the outcome. This gives me the feeling of control over myself, because I know that I can analyze a situation where I exercised poor decision making and do better next time. I take responsibility for myself before blaming others.

      Now I didn’t mean to frame trust in a paranoid sort of way. Of course, we all trust people everyday, and of course, I trust the people I’m close with. What I mostly meant is that I don’t see a reason in trusting unnecessarily, or going out of my way to trust completely. But if I do extend trust to someone I prepare for the worst, and if it happens I don’t get angry with them but I use the situation as a learning tool to act better next time.

      What trust means to me is that you engage in actions with people without preparing for potentially poor outcomes. I should go back and add this to the article. I always prepare for a poor outcome when I engage with people (or with nature or anything else), I rarely ever completely trust my situation, I always have a backup plan in mind. This does not mean that I find anything wrong with the people around me, but just that I’ve learned that it’s better to prepare for a sucker punch that will probably never come than get it unexpectedly. I find that this makes my relationships with people run much more smoothly.

      Thanks for driving these discussions deeper, they’re really appreciated.

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      • Wade Shepard August 16, 2012, 10:33 am

        About trust and democracy, I find it absolutely insane that people still have trust for their figures of authority when they have been burned by them over and over again. People seem to want to trust others, even when they don’t show signs that they can be trusted. It’s that drive to trust that often overtakes logic and common sense. Whether it’s a government official, a tourist scam artist, or a lover, it’s amazing how people follow their passion for trusting into compromising situations even when warning signs are everywhere. I seem to lack this urge to trust, which makes me incredibly curious about it.

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  • trevor August 16, 2012, 8:31 am

    Wade, what’s got in to u, another, the second in a row…. heavy topic, (man)..

    the last one…. i had no comment…. this one…. i dt trust people either ok i could with family if i needed but i dont …

    how about ‘relying on others’….as a topic…!!!!!! … easier to do it all my self then i know it will be done the way i want it to be done….when i go travelling i dont send stuff to my dads… he lost a post card once… he told me one arrived and then probably/promtly dumped it…. i dont have any one ‘Western Union’ing me money… i dt have back up and am self reliant for everything!!!….. i worked out a way with bank cards running out of date……. get replacement cards (valid for 3 years) before i go any where… after which time i would need a job.. and then open up a new account and wire the money from older account to the new one if in a different country and continue like that…i dt buy souvenirs any more….. i dt send stuff home… cheaper to dump it that pay postage
    next time i hit the road…. december… am not planning on going home….. the lap top will be my diary…. and as dave from ‘LONG WAY HOME’ the lap top becomes a place to put photos ‘au lieu de’ post cards as he dont have a fridge /kitchen cupboard

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    • Wade Shepard August 16, 2012, 10:25 am

      For sure, digging deep this week. Though I think I may just be stalling to avoid continuing researching food quality in China. Now that’s some stuff that shouldn’t be trusted 🙂

      Good points here about self-reliance. It’s my observation that people who are secure in their self-sufficiency tend to get along with people better than those who feel as if they need others to function. Knowing that you’re fine on your own gives you that emotional distance necessary to evaluate a situation a little more clearly and the power to just walk away if thing’s are not looking too promising.

      It can be good for the character not having a safety net. It’s my impression that it forces people to take responsibility for themselves, which echoes throughout all aspects of the living experience.

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  • Mercury August 16, 2012, 12:48 pm

    I absolutely agree with the concept of personal responsibility vs blame shifting. Victims will always find an abundance of people to victimize them. That way they never need to change. Successful people on the other hand assume as much personal responsibility as possible. That way if things aren’t working, they have the power to make changes and improve their situation. As far as trusting others its really a question of how much you trust your judgement. But your probably correct our society does seem to make a really big deal about trust; probably more than it needs to. Interesting post.

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    • Wade Shepard August 17, 2012, 11:24 pm

      Right on. It’s my impression that changing personal strategies is hard work. It’s much easier to blame other people and to act as if a bad experience was a fluke and wasn’t influenced/ invited by your own living patterns. Successful people do take control of their world. The feeling that you can change situations for the better and get what you want is powerful. You will never see a successful person moaning about hard luck, they’re far too busy coming up with a contingency plan.

      It’s my impression that the idea of trust has been blown out of proportion in US society because it’s a relatively untrustworthy society where many of the traditional frameworks of responsibility have been corroded.

      Very good points.

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  • dad August 16, 2012, 9:03 pm

    good writing .,you have some really great thoughts

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    • Wade Shepard August 17, 2012, 11:16 pm

      Thanks Dad. Much appreciated.

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  • Nick August 17, 2012, 10:40 am

    Interesting article. I like the topic and your take is very enlightening. One point I would like to make is that I think there is a difference between ‘trust’ and ‘expectation’. With that being said, I think they are very closely related and when someone trusts another person, they may hold certain expectations for them. Trusting people (wife/kids/family) in my opinion is different from simply having very low expectations for them and not expecting them to do or say something.

    Like the saying goes: “Don’t expect anything and then you won’t be disappointed.”

    This also makes me think of the debate over whether trust is inherently given to others and is taken away when they break it OR is trust in people built over time?

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    • Wade Shepard August 17, 2012, 10:07 pm

      My take is that trust is a project on the future. If you trust someone you expect them to act in a way befitting of that trust, you expect them to come through in a pinch, to do what they say, and, in some cases, to not harm you.

      “Don’t expect anything and then you won’t be disappointed.”

      That’s a good line for claiming happiness. Or “appreciate what you receive and don’t expect anything more.”

      To many hassles in life come from people expecting more from others than what they’re willing to give or wanting someone to be something they’re not. Perhaps acceptance, not trust, should be of sought.

      It’s my impression that trust is both built and lost. I don’t think that it is ever inherently given. Even when just meeting someone their reputation of trust or distrust often precedes them, which they built up over time within various communities.

      Thanks for the discussion.

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  • Jenna Makowski August 22, 2012, 7:15 pm

    This reminds me commentary I recently heard about American politics. American voters place a lot of emphasis on trusting – or at least having the illusion of being able to trust – their leaders. In most other countries where leaders are elected, government positions are seen as just that – jobs, completely separated from personal life and personal connection to voters. But in America, we are inundated on a daily basis by investigations into candidates’ religious beliefs, eating habits, family backgrounds – all in the name of establishing a sense of (or illusion of) trust. But really, most of that supposed “trust-building” data is completely irrelevant to their jobs at hand.

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    • Wade Shepard August 22, 2012, 10:39 pm

      This is right on. American politics is sort of a global joke, or, better put, a drama that seems no more real than a soap opera. It’s entertainment, and, as any author knows, it’s incredibly difficult to make good characters interesting. It’s so funny that the organizations bringing out information on political candidates are those that make money by getting the most viewers, subscribers etc. So “interesting” takes precedence over good. It’s a sorry state of affairs. They may as well make a reality TV series about the candidates running for office. It seems like we view our politicians as characters rather than people who are just doing a job.

      Great to hear from you again.

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  • Brianne Corbett August 6, 2013, 2:58 pm

    One of the finest articles I have read in a long long time. Outstanding.

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    • VagabondJourney August 7, 2013, 1:19 am

      Thanks for this feedback, it’s truly appreciated.

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