Reading the above post, the comment thread that it inspired, led me to the following reflection on Trust.
I first started to deal with serious trust issues as a facilitator in conflict groups. I kept saying to people – listen, your assumptions about what trust is are getting you into difficulty. Trust is not something some else earns.
Trust is something you EXTENT to another person. There are two immediate consequences of that.
The first is that trust involves risk. When you extend trust to someone, you are taking a risk. It is important to never forget that, no matter how many time the trust you extend, and therefore the risk you take, turns out o.k. Each new time you extend trust, you take a new risk. Extending trust to someone you have extended trust to many times, with whom the risk you takes has turned out ok many times (e.g. in a relationship), means that you have more data on which to base your decision to take a risk, not that you are NOT TAKING the risk.
The second is that trust involves power. Yours! Only people with personal power can extend trust and take a risk. So remember that each time you extend trust to another person you are affirming your personal power. If the risk you took starts to go wrong, call on that same personal power to back out as fast as you can. Stop extending the trust. Add the knowledge you have gained to your stock of the information you use when you decide to extend trust in future and take a risk.
When you look at trust this way, two things come clear.
1) The trust extender always remains responsible for the decision to extend trust. The person to whom the trust is extended remains responsible for her or his response to this extension of trust. Who is responsible for what simply does not get confused.
2) The trust extender always retains the power to stop extending the trust. There is no forever. There is a constant extending of trust.
One of the things that always strikes me about the top / bottom relationship is that the bottom affirms her or his power by extending trust to the top. When and if abuses that positive affirmation, then the bottom needs to respond from that position of personal power, by getting out or by taking steps to “shame” the top who abuses the extension of trust publicly, if this happens in a public scene.
Safe words don’t work unless these two things are the case. When someone uses a safe word, I hear it less as “I can handle this” and more as “whatever is going on between us right now has come to a put where I can no longer extend trust to you.” Unless I ask or the person tells me, I will not know why that is. It could be about something that I am doing. It could also be about something that the trust extender is experiencing – something that might originate in some feeling or past event that has nothing to do with me. I believe that the ethics of topping require the top to do whatever is required to find out which of these (or what mixture of them) has led to the use of the safe word.
I know my view of trust runs against what most people think trust and power is, but it makes a lot of sense to me. In the conflict groups that I have worked in, it helps the people see them selves as “weak” recover a sense of personal power which they can use to respond appropriately to the conflict. In some sense as the process facilitator in these groups (the process top if you like), it also gives me a very clear sense of what I need to do when the equivalent of a safe word is used during the conflict resolution process – find out what is happening before pushing the resolution process further.