from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Sunday, 16 March 2014

on trust

Spring is crossing the land towards us at, I believe it's said, 2mph.

This afternoon, in a blue day, after sowing the rest of my broad beans and cleaning the recycled glass panes topping the big cold frame TM has made us (now housing germinating seeds of soya beans, French beans, borlotti, cavallo nero, kale, leeks and 3 kinds of purple sprouting broccoli), with the temperature in the 20s, I lay in the hammock – yes, hammock! – in sun, near the apple trees, and looked up at the buzzard cruising in the thermals, at the contrail of a jet above it, and thought about trust.

Initially I was just thinking about how we trust the earth to keep spinning at its regular speed of whatever-it-is, trust gravity to stop us flying into space, and trust aerodynamics, the internal combustion engine, engineers and pilots to keep us up in the air in those little metal boxes. How I trust the apple trees to keep budding, how I trust that the newly-planted seeds will shoot, and leaf, and deliver fruit, how I trust the dog, lying on the grass nearby, never to bite me, how I trust that today I won't die.

Then my mind turned on a conversation I had with my daughter yesterday, about the components of trust. She said, insightfully, I think, that almost without exception we – she and I – have surrounded ourselves with people whom we can trust completely, and take that so for granted we don't think about it, or need to think about it. Until or unless someone betrays us.

I have been naïve in this way, at times. Most of my life I've trusted the people I've met. I am myself, on the whole, reasonably trustworthy, I think; and I'd much rather go through life that way, trusting, than the other. 

I've also found that when you trust people they do generally turn out to be trustworthy, which reinforces both your wish and your ability to trust.

A simple example of this occurred weekly, in the days when I was a shoemaker. I worked for myself, and hand-made, to measure, shoes that would go out all over the world (I had a three-month waiting list). Customers would pay me a small deposit and pay the balance, plus postage, on receipt. Of the hundreds, tens of hundreds, maybe, of shoes I sent out on trust, I was only ever let down twice in 14 years. That ain't bad.

However, in my personal life I've been burned a few times, usually when my instinct has said one thing and I've ignored it and gone the other way. Last year this was brought home sharply to me when I was betrayed by a friend. It shocked and hurt me deeply. Perhaps now I'm not quite as blindly trusting; and I also no longer ignore my instinct.

One of my own weaknesses is that I can sometimes leave things for too long before raising them, because of my intense dislike of hurting people or creating disharmony – all very well, but there's a cowardice in there at times, too, that can make a situation worse when it does blow up. (In that way, I could no doubt improve my own trustworthiness by being more willing to speak out and rock boats when it's needed earlier rather than later.)

So, lying there in my hammock, I was thinking about my conversation with my daughter, and musing on what we mean by trust, and what that means in relation to people we entrust our friendship to. What qualities does the word 'trust' connote?

I guess the most obvious quality is that of integrity: our knowing that someone will aim to act honourably.

I guess this presupposes, and this is where it gets tricky, that we share, loosely, a value-system that we – both parties – hold as central to our lives. It is, perhaps, hard to trust someone deeply if their values are very different from one's own.
When we give someone our trust, it's reasonable to suppose that they will bear in mind our rights, and our wellbeing, with regard to their actions. Someone we trust will not compete with us, put us down, diminish us, or take what isn't freely given. They will make our life bigger, not smaller.

Then there's self-responsibility, which means something like taking responsibility for their own words and actions, and especially when they mess up (rather than denying, blaming, guilt-tripping and hitting out). This requires a certain level of self-awareness, and courage.
It means that they are willing to look at their own lies in relation to themselves, perhaps (because we all do lie to ourselves), and any duplicity, or economy with the truth, in relation to us.

It means they're willing to hear our point of view. It means they're willing to share theirs, too. And they won't be afraid to challenge us, or be challenged, without it being aggressive, harsh or blaming.

I guess it means that we trust their continuing intention to be kind, truthful, and honest; even though we all know that all of us will get it wrong sometimes. 

We trust them, above all, to act with authenticity, which I guess is trusting them to act in a way that's true to themselves and their values, and therefore clear in its communication of what matters to them (of course this kind of clarity is always a work-in-progress, but I think it can be conveyed and intuited). So there's a willingness to be straight, even if it disappoints another.

Oriah Mountain Dreamer says in her famous 'The Invitation': 'I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself; if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul; if you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.'

(OMD has said somewhere that she's lost count of the number of times people have corrected that word 'faithless' to 'faithFUL'. No, not FAITHFUL – faithless; meaning that when push comes to shove a person will not betray themselves to garner approval; that's the point.)

For me, that's perhaps the key: I trust someone when I know that they will, no matter what, not betray who they are, their deepest values, for the sake of convenience or comfort. The many people whom I love, I love dearly; and without exception they are true to themselves, and therefore they are true with me also.

I'm sure I've only skimmed the surface, and would be glad to hear your thoughts and additions?


  1. Hi Roselle
    Last night I went to bed with your trust post - you know that this is a core point in my life - and today I woke up with this:
    Trust - two parallels in love who make wedding arrangements for infinity!
    Have a lovely day! With love Beatrice

  2. O Roselle, you've triggered so many thoughts that I may have to write my own article. OMD's quote was crucial to me once when I had to break a long association. I think there's a naive trust that we start with, which grows into a more mature informed trust based on life experience rather than assumption. One of my past major insights was that if I could trust myself to deal with whatever came up in a relationship then I could trust the relationship. The key being that knowing my strengths and weaknesses can I trust myself? And if I am trustworthy I will tend to be around those who are also trustworthy. There are always curve balls however, people who turn out not to be who we think the are, and they can be very persuasive.

  3. Bea - that is both poetic and romantic - and THANK YOU! With love xx

    1. And this:
      How to trust ourselves??
      Trust, as I wrote elsewhere, is something like the warmth rooted in respect, acknowledgement and acceptance, the certainty that we are worth being taken seriously and not deceived. It is something that manifests daily in our lives.
      An empty promise, thoughtlessly or absent-mindedly made, can undermine trust.
      The toddler or small child, not being able to place absent-mindedness adequately and forgivingly into his/her growing system of values, not being able to see thoughtlessness in perspective, will grow up with an iridescent image of trust.
      Trust is the fertile and ploughed soil for us as children to grow up and walk on; if it is soft, humid and boggy, we will automatically step on this ground more cautiously, sensing that we may also hit a hidden water bubble and stumble or sink.
      Experiencing however that the soil is safe to walk on, we will feel physically and mentally strengthened and develop trust in ourselves.
      This experience is certainly easier to make for the toddler; it is never too late to make it though!
      B xx

  4. Rachael, thank you. I think this is key, and I'm glad you isolated and posted it: 'One of my past major insights was that if I could trust myself to deal with whatever came up in a relationship then I could trust the relationship.'

    Absolutely. I once wrote that the relationships we make with another are only as good as those we make with ourself. This, of course, is crucial: we can only trust another if we can trust ourselves.

    Thank you for this important insight, Rachael.

    Love, Rx

  5. And that's another helpful and expressive response, B. Indeed - it's very hard to correct our childhood experience of the world, and what a HUGE responsibility it is being a parent.

    But as you also say, it's never too late to learn to trust; to challenge the models that drive us from childhood. Then, our natural responses kept us safe; now, our learned responses from then can be inhibiting.

    And yes - first we have to learn that we can trust ourselves. Susan Jeffers addresses this in her 'Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway': it's our fear that we won't be able to COPE that holds us back much more often that the apparent thing - circumstance, event, situation - itself.

    How would we be, how strong would we feel, how differently we'd relate to the world if we were sure we could cope with everything life brought to us?


  6. Have thought much about this since first reading it. Trusting oneself – that is such a challenge sometimes, especially, as you say Roselle about holding back, not being true to yourself for fear of causing disharmony, hurting people. It's also got me into deep water as well as when I am as straight with people as I aim to be, in the kindest possible way. We're facing a dilemma at the moment with two much-loved, long-standing friends, who nevertheless at times still try to put me down (then apologise) and never stop trying to persuade us that we must/should? go on holiday with them. We've always resisted – now I wonder if it'll cost us their friendship. If so, a great pity, for they're good, loyal friends otherwise, though we think unaware that their need to be generous can demand too much.
    Struggling with two characters in my writing at the moment, I realise this whole subject of lack of self-faith and trust applies to them. It should have been obvious, but for a moment, being too close, I think I'd almost forgotten that.
    For me, the dilemma is this: remaining true to oneself yet being able to cope with the fallout when it concerns relationships with others, as Rachael describes. I'm hoping that discussing it, calmly, sensitively, as equal adults, will help us keep our friends. I must trust that whatever happens I'll feel I've coped,done the right thing, even if the result is painful.

    This is why I visit this blog when I should be writing! It helps me write. It helps me. Thanks, as ever. Miriam xx

  7. Miriam I do so empathise. I'm interested that you and J both 'resist' going on holiday with them - doesn't that say something?

    I know you know this, but if their friendship is that good, then your raising a sensitive issue won't shake it, but instead may strengthen it, for the honesty and opportunity to be kind and clear. If it doesn't - well, of course you'll cope.

    My guideline these days is, as I suggested above, if it makes your world feel bigger, it's a good friendship. (Of course there are tricky aspects in any friendship, and one hopes these can be navigated reciprocally and openly.)

    I think one of the hardest things is letting go of old once-strong friendships. But people change, and what served both parties once may not serve either now... Letting go is an art, too, isn't it?

    And - thank you as ever for deepening the conversation.

    Rachael, meet Miriam and Bea. All 3 of you will be on Iona with me :-).



  8. Thanks Roselle, we see our friends tomorrow – interesting in the light of all this. I like that word you use: 'navigate' – just how it is. First thing to do: navigate through my own rough and rocky feelings.
    Lovely to be seeing Bea again and to meet Rachael. Not long now.


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