Never Trust Anybody

“Never trust anybody.” That’s one of the lessons President Trump says was imparted repeatedly by his father.

Trump added, “Then [my father would] ask me if I trusted anybody. I’d say, ‘No.’ ‘Do you trust me?’ [his father] would ask. I’d say, ‘Yes.’ And he’d say: ‘No! Don’t even trust me!'”

I had two reactions to this story:

  1. This lesson was probably one of the reasons Mr. Trump was successful financially.
  2. I wish someone had taught me the same lesson when I was young.

If I had learned this lesson, my expectations would have been more realistic. I would have better protected my own interests. And I would not have left myself so exposed to the back-stabbing tactics of duplicitous people. In short, I could have avoided some painful experiences and probably achieved more success than I did. Maybe I’d even been happier.

Some people might be tempted to think you just have to trust others. They don’t want to live in a world in which you can’t trust others. But why? I know the downside. What’s the upside?

The upside of not relying on trust is that you leave yourself less exposed. And are less inclined to operate on flawed assumptions and, therefore, less likely to make missteps or be ambushed.

Now, some may say that, if you heed Mr. Trump’s advice, you’ll end up like his son: a self-absorbed narcissistic individual seemingly devoid of empathy and ethics. But I’m not so sure about that. I don’t think it’s fair to point to that one lesson about trust as the culprit in the formation of a flawed personality disorder.

But perhaps it was a factor. I don’t know.

What I do know is that, in my world, there are few things worse than breach of trust. It’s a big deal to me. It’s the one thing about the Mafia I always respected: the willingness to go to jail or be killed rather than breach the trust your family placed in you. (Obviously, I didn’t like the Mafia’s objectives or their criminality and brutality.)

But I’ve found that trust frequently ends up being misplaced and leads to disappointment and pain. Because there always will be breaches of trust. Eventually, even the Mafia learned this lesson the hard way, as one after another ended up ratting out their family members to protect their own hides.

In the real world (as opposed to the idealized world that tends to captivate my imagination at times), people act out of self-interest. They will do what they believe to be in their self-interest, or what they think is right, even if it means betrayal. We’re very good at rationalizing betrayal away. We won’t even think of it as betrayal or breach of trust. Sometimes, we even manage to convert it into honor or virtue.

I wish I’d better understood this. As I’ve matured (beaten up like an old car), I’m less inclined to think that others were or are the problem and more inclined to think the problem was my own unreasonable expectations. And my naive understanding of human nature. I can’t blame anyone else for those expectations and naiveté. That was my own doing. I think President Trump’s dad understood this.

Still, I can’t go all in. I can’t live without any trust. But what I can do is to reserve it for fewer people. Close friends and family to be exact. And never to trust anyone in the workplace.

I’ve learned there are friends and there are friends, and never to lose sight of the distinction. I learned that lesson the hard way. I wish my dad had done a better job of imparting that knowledge when I was young. I wish I’d done a better job as a dad as well.

Nevertheless, I consider myself to be very fortunate: I have some true friends and family whom I feel I can trust. So maybe Mr. Trump’s father was wrong. Or perhaps he was right about the general rule, and that the exceptions are rare. You can decide for yourself.

In any case, I understand why Mr. Trump taught his son that lesson. Perhaps he went too far. Twenty years ago I would have said that he did. Today, I’m not so sure.

P.S. Despite what I believe is often a mere illusion of trust, Vera, you can always trust me. I can’t think of anything more important than fostering and living trust within our family. And never betraying the trust we have placed in each other. Frankly, I’d rather die than breach that trust.

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