What does it really mean to trust?

Trust is a funny subject to study. It’s a word we use a lot — from the news to brand campaigns to relationship columns— without always thinking about how trust works and why it’s so important in our lives.

I imagine trust as a remarkable force that allows us to overcome uncertainty, to be vulnerable, to try something new or do something differently. It is literally the bridge or the social glue between the known and the unknown. And that’s why my definition of it is simple: “a confident relationship with the unknown”.

My Definition of Trust: A confident relationship with the unknown.

The definition of trust has been widely debated for years. In fact, there are more academic papers on its definition than on any other sociological concept. More than even love. Whilst researching for my latest book Who Can You Trust? I looked at how a wide array of social scientists, psychologists, economists and others describe trust as an almost magical social elixir, the glue that keeps society together and the economy ticking over.

Here are seven of my favourite trust-thinkers, their views on what trust really is and the role it plays in our lives.

The Psychologist — David DeSteno

“Trust implies a seeming unknowable — a bet of sorts, if you will. At its base is a delicate problem centred on the balance between two dynamic and often opposing desires — a desire for someone else to meet your needs and his desire to meet his own.”

The Teacher — Confucius

‘Abandon weapons first, then food. But never abandon trust. People cannot get on without trust. Trust is more important than life.’

The Philosopher — Onora O’Neill

“Each of us and every profession and every institution needs trust. We need it because we have to be able to rely on others acting as they say that they will, and because we need others to accept that we will act as we say we will.”

The Author — Professor Adam B. Seligman

“For central to the definition of trust (as opposed to confidence) is that involves one in a relation where the acts, character or intentions of the other cannot be confirmed…One trusts or is forced to trust — perhaps led to trust would be better — when one cannot know, when one has not the capabilities to apprehend or check on the other and so has no choice but to trust.”

The Therapist — Esther Perel

“Trust is the active engagement with the unknown. Trust is risky. It’s vulnerable. It’s a leap of faith…The more we trust, the farther we are able to venture.”

The Economist- Andy Haldane

“Trust is an altogether different animal. It is based on beliefs, not observable proofs. It is grounded in perceptions rather than evidence. It is as much a psychological state as a financial one. A clean balance sheet might instil confidence, but it need not repair trust. Because it is a moral judgement, repairing trust can be a slow and painstaking business.”

The Researcher — Brené Brown

“Trust is defined as: choosing to make what’s important to you, vulnerable to the actions of someone else. Distrust is defined as: what I shared with you, is not safe with you.”