Our whole society runs on trust. We trust the light will come on when we flip the switch. We trust the bus will pick us up when we are waiting at the stop. We trust the surgeon will do his best when he has his hands deep in our body. We trust that pilots are alert and have been properly trained to fly the airplanes.

We trust the restaurant to fix our food right. We trust that the fried chicken we buy from McDonald’s will arrive chicken head-free. We also trust that the people going to the restaurant won’t stick a home-fried chicken head in the food and claim that they found it there. In the case of Katherine Ortega and the so-called “McNoggin,” the jury is still out whether the head she found was actually cooked by McDonald’s or brought in by Ortega. At the time, Ortega threatened to sue, but no further news has come from this.

Sometimes people will violate our trust. In March of this year, Anna Ayala claimed she found a human finger in her bowl of chili at Wendy’s, but no one at Wendy’s turned up as a good Frodo lookalike with nine fingers. Wendy’s has offered a reward of $100,000 for information about this case, but the damage has already been done to Wendy’s bottom line as sales dropped. In late April, Ayala was arrested for attempted grand larceny pertaining to the Wendy’s case. It also seems she has a history of suing food companies. While we don’t know all the facts in this case yet, since it hasn’t gone to trial, I’m pretty confident we will discover that Ayala planted the finger in the chili.

If this turns out to be the case, how much will Ayala be trusted in the future? When you cry wolf too many times, people will stop believing what you say. When a President shakes his finger in America’s collective face and lies to them, claiming he didn’t have sexual relations with “that woman,” he proves himself untrustworthy. And when a person has become untrustworthy, how can we believe or trust anything else that he says? In the case of a boy I know, nearly everything he ever said to me was a lie. He lied when he didn’t have to do so, and he lied when he knew that I knew he was lying. And yet he’d keep on lying.

Like almost everyone, I have had my trust broken at times, and it has affected how I trust others. I refuse to rent movies from Blockbuster Video because a simple business trust was broken. And I don’t see the need to spend money at a business I can no longer trust. Do you?

I find that I start out initially trusting people, but as I find they are not very trustworthy, my trust in them will decrease. Have you ever worked with someone who promises he’ll have that time-critical business report done and on your desk the very next day, only to walk into your office the next morning and realize that he never finished it? What do you do when someone has violated your trust and proved himself to be untrustworthy? While he is untrustworthy, I obviously can’t trust him at all, so it means having to make back-up plans to cover his empty promises. If he is assigned to bring the soda to a picnic, I need to have some chilled two-liter pop bottles in the trunk of my car, ready to bring out and keep his failure from ruining the picnic for everyone else. At what point does he realize that he no longer needs to be responsible, if he knows that other people are around who will step up and cover things for him? Does this lead to him being even more untrustworthy?

If someone has violated your trust, is it possible for that person to earn it back again? My faith tells me that I am to forgive, and I do believe in forgiveness. In the case of Blockbuster, I no longer harbor them any ill will, and thinking about what happened doesn’t make me angry any more. I have done what I can on my side to put that behind me, but I still don’t do business with Blockbuster because they have done nothing to earn back my trust. Having been bitten by them once, I won’t put myself in a position to be bitten again while things promise to be the same. I prefer to pretty much leave them alone, and that’s why I go to Hollywood Video. If Blockbuster buys out Hollywood Video, I’ll go to NetFlix.

But Captain Midnight, it’s not forgiveness if you won’t do business with them again!

You can think that if you wish, and depending on how you define forgiveness, you might be right. But forgiving the person who stole my car doesn’t mean I need to park my car in his driveway with the keys in the ignition.

So then how do people actually earn back your trust?

Now that’s a very good question! A person can earn my trust by being trustworthy. The catch is that there may not be an opportunity to be trustworthy if he isn’t being trusted. When people wrong me, I will do my best to forgive them, but that is all on my side. If Hypothetical Harold steals my car, I will forgive him over time. But for me to trust Harold again, he will have to come to me and show that he has changed his ways. Harold will have to show himself to be trustworthy in small things, and gradually earn his way back into a position of trust again. In a situation like this, I may even be willing to loan Harold my car.

I was once treated very poorly by Qwest. When I complained about the piss-poor customer service, I received an official apology from the head of customer service and things were done to make the situation better. Qwest worked to earn back my trust, and I stuck with them for two more years until I moved. I would be using Qwest DSL right now if it were available in this area. Because they made the effort to earn back my trust, I placed them in a position of trust again, and they proved trustworthy. Because Blockbuster did nothing to earn back my trust, I have not placed them in a position of trust again.

Up to now, all of this has been about trusting other people. But if I have been the one to break someone else’s trust, what is it that I must do? There are three things to do: first, apologize to the person(s) I have failed; second, replace or undo the damage I have done, basically cleaning up my mess; and third, prove myself to be completely trustworthy from then on.

That’s the only way I can hope to earn and re-earn the trust of others.

Addendum (9/9/2005): The Wendy’s finger couple have pleaded guilty to sticking a human finger in a bowl of Wendy’s chili and claiming they had found it there. Anna Ayala and Jaime Placencia now face 10-13 years behind bars for their false claim and attempted grand theft.

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