Friday, 30 July 2010

Trust is the basic currency of life

Today, I wish to tell you that:
- Trust is the basic currency of life.
- As such, it can be invested, or bet if you will.
- A balance between trust and distrust must be managed
- In finding this balance, we construct working models of how to live our lives
- But perhaps evolution has put a greater emphasis on distrust than is optimal for the modern human

So yeah, I believe that having a sense of security, or trust towards oneself, is the one basic measurement of both our mental health and our ability.

Which is, you know, kind of a given, since a sense of security is just that: It’s an emotional assessment of the given situation, a belief that things are under control and won’t end in disaster. (See my post Man will survive)

But it runs both ways: We can have a sense of security in ourselves because we are well equipped to deal with the current situation, but we can also become better equipped to deal with the current situation by finding a sense of security in ourselves.

I would say that this sense of security, is the one single biggest psychological issue for the modern human. Trust in that I am capable of handling myself, trust that I am a valuable person, trust that I am accepted and loved by my peers. This is sort of an expanding on the concepts I introduced in A model of mental health.

We are today living in an individualistic society without authorities and traditions which can tell us what profession to pursue, what life to live, how to judge our worth as a humans, which was the case in the old collectivistic societies of tradition, family and religion. Suddenly, we need to make these calls ourselves.

There is plethora of psychological and layman-psychological terms for these issues: Self-efficacy, self-worth, self-esteem, locus of control, self-image, attachment style, insecurity-security.

In fact, everything that is good in humanity requires trust.
  • Generosity towards others requires a trust in that these people will not exploit us.
  • To dream and to work towards that dream requires that we trust in our visions, that we do not fear failure and disappointment.
  • When we create and express ourselves, we show others our innermost being, and we need to believe that this is something valuable that other people will respect.
  • Listening to and caring for other people requires a belief that their inner darkness won't hurt us.
  • Love, to open up to another person, requires trust.
By the same token, many things in humanity which are not so great, are a form of distrust or defense, a way to close yourself up and keep others away.

To be mean-spirited, aggressive, distant, anxious, afraid, delusional, psychotic or borderline are different ways to be defensive, to keep people or thoughts away which could otherwise hurt our selves.

Domains of security
From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense that this balance of trust-distrust and security-insecurity is so central. For an organism to maximize it's chance of forwarding it's genes to offspring, it should be ambitious in order to gain advantages when the situation allows it, and cautious in order to survive when the situation requires it.

Attachment theory is a great example of this evolutionary readiness for adaptation. Bowlby proposed that we have in our brains basically three pre-wired models of approaching other people; Secure, clingy or avoidant. (Generalizing, of course.) Which model we choose depend on how we are treated by our parents, and this is to adaption to the environment we grow up in. For instance, if we are born in a place where food and protection is scarce, and our parents doesn't always have time available to tend to our needs, it makes sense to be clingy to maximize one's chance of survival. If a child is given a sense of security or trust, sie instead learns that the world is not such a bad place, and that sie should be ambitious, open and trusting, because that will be the adaptive stance to maximize one's chances for survival, development and procreation.

As I touched in my post A model of mental health, one can see Abraham Maslow's model of needs in much the same way.

Attachment theory only accounts for the intimacy need, how secure we feel in that other people care for us and love us. In the same way, Maslow proposes that you can have a sense of security or insecurity in any need.

If, for instance, my need for esteem isn’t satisfied properly by those around me, I understand that I need to work hard to feel esteem, and that it cannot be taken for granted. This becomes an internal working model for how I view and handle the world, what strategies I use to maximize security, love and satisfaction.

With a sense of insecurity in esteem, I become worried and preoccupied with securing esteem, even when I’ve found friends who accept me and who I am - Our internal working models doesn’t change easily.

I believe that confidence and status is a sort of security (or trust in oneself) as well, but I'll save that for another post.

Trust, or don’t?
Everyone must walk a balance between trust and distrust, between openness and defense.

When we use trust, we are capable of the greatest feats, but we are also at our most vulnerability - Vulnerability towards disappointment and deceit.

If trust and sense of security is the basic currency of life, you can certainly invest it. You can invest trust in other people, and you can invest energy and belief in your dreams. If you have invested wisely, then the results are glorious. You realize your dreams, or grow close to someone you've opened up to. If you invest in something that fails, it’s our most terrible moments of disapointment or betrayal.

So we certainly need a certain amount of distrust and skepticism, but I also believe that since no-one has to fend for their survival in our modern and peaceful nations, we are pre-wired for more distrust than we need to be. Prisoners dilemma. It pays to be distrusting because other people are distrusting/cold/protective of their own interests. At the same time, by tradition, we put way too much trust in an unsustainable lifestyle, the one big threat against humanity today.

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