By Chris Hoehn
As I write this article college students are beginning a new semester, meeting new classmates and living with people they just met. It can be a time of great change in personal relationships. Opening yourself up and being vulnerable with another is a risk. We all have had experiences of sharing our thoughts without knowing how another will receive them. I recently had a conversation with a student beginning this journey in a new environment and without the benefit of friends and family nearby. We had been talking about how and what to share as you are meeting new people. One concern for this student is how to know who to trust.
Coincidentally, I heard a podcast from a philosopher speaking on this subject. She was speaking to the issue of trust in our culture, and she was making the point that what is needed is not more trust. We need a way to determine who is trustworthy. She shared three characteristics that need to be in a relationship that is trustworthy. She stated the three things that we should look for are: Are they competent? Are they honest? Are they reliable? And if we find that a person is competent in their dealings with us, and reliable and honest, we'll have a pretty good reason to trust them because they'll be trustworthy. But if, on the other hand, they're unreliable, we might not. She went on to say that she has known people who are competent and honest, but she would not trust them to post a letter because they're forgetful. I think at times we have known friends who may think they can accomplish more than they are capable of – they are very confident they can do certain things, but then we come to realize that they overestimate their own competence. And so, their trustworthiness could be in question. And finally but I think very importantly, we need to assess the honesty of an acquaintance before we can determine whether they are trustworthy. The Gospels say very clearly that those who can be trusted in small things can be trusted in larger ones too. So, that is a good standard to go with.
Knowing who to trust can be tricky in new situations and even in continuing ones. This generally takes some time, as we will need to determine the reliability, honesty and competency of those with whom we choose to share our story.
I was reminded of what the Church tells us throughout salvation history. God is trustworthy. Christ is trustworthy. Because God is trustworthy and because we are called to imitate Christ, we are also called to be people who can be trusted. We are called to be honest, reliable and competent.
Obviously, none of us will ever be totally perfect in this area. We will fail people just as they fail us. But we should be known as people who are trustworthy. These character traits serve as a powerful testimony in today’s world and bring glory to the God we serve.
Chris Hoehn is director of the Newman Center at the University of Southern Indiana.