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Trust Me, You Should Be More Trusting

In the wake of tragedies like the nightmare that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut, our guards goes up, rightfully so. We pay more attention; we're more protective and thorough when out in public places. And while there are obvious reasons for keeping an eye out for trouble, perpetuating a lack of trust can actually create bigger rifts and cause more issues on grander scales. At its core, trust is our greatest ally in protecting each other. It's also incredibly beneficial for our personal health.

Beyond tragedies like Newtown, there are many influences in our modern world telling us to be less trusting: television shows and movies are built around cheating partners, deception and dishonor; the 24-hour news media reports on frauds and oppression occurring around the world (and in our own country); as well, we're bombarded with marketing for foods and products that we know do not live up to the claims used to entice us into purchasing them.

Many of us fall into the traps of attempting to achieve a societal "norm" by lying repeatedly to one another—even our own loved ones—when asked simple questions such as: "how are you?"; "how was your day?"; "does this outfit make me look fat?" Despite the fact that anti-depressants and other mood-altering drug sales are the highest they've ever been, we continue attempts to hold onto the façade that everything is always at the very least, absolutely fine. But the fact is, the more we lie, the less we trust.

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Notre Dame earlier this year found the effects of lying were detrimental to our health. The groups that lied the least over a ten-week period also reported significantly fewer mental and physical health complaints than the groups that lied more. And in a 2011 study conducted by the University of Missouri, people who were more trusting of their neighbors also reported better overall health. Feelings of social trust, acceptance, and belonging to a community significantly impacted the health of individuals.

In an essay appearing in the Wall Street Journal earlier this year, Dan Ariely discussed why we lie—and how even those small, seemingly insignificant white lies can be detrimental to how much we trust others: "Everybody has the capacity to be dishonest, and almost everybody cheats—just by a little. Except for a few outliers at the top and bottom, the behavior of almost everyone is driven by two opposing motivations. On the one hand, we want to benefit from cheating and get as much money and glory as possible; on the other hand, we want to view ourselves as honest, honorable people. Sadly, it is this kind of small-scale mass cheating, not the high-profile cases, that is most corrosive to society."

As Ariely's experiments proved, we're generally dishonest with each other, and more often, ourselves, even if only slightly. But, it's knowing that we can't even trust ourselves that makes it even more difficult to trust each other.

Trust is a reliance, which generally involves reciprocity. We have faith that someone will do something because they have that same faith in us. Because we've been breeding a culture of suspicion and dishonesty, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to trust each other. When that level of confidence is eroded from our culture, we leave ourselves open to tragedies on the micro and macro levels.

Want to be more trusting?

Start by being honest with yourself—even when you’re lying. That may sound counterintuitive, but we often tell ourselves the same lies we tell others ("that was the best meal ever!"). Acknowledge your misrepresentation with yourself and you may be less likely to do it again.

Retract. Say something that wasn't true? You can cultivate more trust by taking it back, apologizing and speaking honestly. People respect and gravitate towards honesty when it's presented.

Don't worry about how others will respond to you. People may often be upset by the truth—and that's their choice. But generally, they'll get over feeling embarrassed or hurt a lot quicker than they'll get over feeling lied to.

Trust others. Taking someone at his or her word is about the biggest gesture of trust we can make. By holding people to this high standard, they'll often rise to meet that space you're holding for them.

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