While we affirm trust as a fundamental of relationships, grasping and navigating its meaning and practice can, quite frankly, feel almost impossible.
Trust has different meanings. People speak about it as belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something . We use words like confidence, faith, certainty to convey our understanding.
What is interesting is that trust often depends on the character and behaviour of the other person or persons. Speaking about trust in a relationship someone said we can make ourselves available because the other person ‘has proven worthy of your partnership through consistency in their honesty, integrity and dependability. ’
I’ve become uncomfortable with this type of definition because it seems to place the onus on the other person. If they don’t prove themselves worthy, then I have no responsibility to extend trust.
But there is a problem.
Trust is culturally nuanced. For me, as a Westerner, it is about truth, integrity, transparency, character traits that build my confidence about the other person. I look back on my early time in South Asia and see how often when I pushed my concepts of truth and honesty I damaged trust because I shamed some of my students, or their parents, and often in front of others. Truth as a marker of trust gave no consideration to the relational consequences of my straight-line expression of that truth.
I have this wrestle within that says without truth, without saying things as they really are, there can be no trust; that without this it is all compromise, shadows and mirrors. This wrestle happens when I listen to my friends who might say ‘how can I trust you when you place no value on our relationship by dishonouring me with this challenge about my integrity, simply because I honoured you when I responded to your invitation.’ (for example: They said yes when I invited them to do something with me but then never came.)
How can we be trust-builders in our relationships with the women of other cultures who we share life with when our understandings and practices of trust are so different?
Firstly, I suggest, take responsibility for extending and receiving trust. For this reason I have been drawn to Charles Feldman’s definition of trust, as quoted by Brene Brown: ‘Trust is choosing to make something important to you vulnerable to the actions of someone else. ’ Trust is my choice, embraces vulnerability, gives myself to others, and includes risk.
This focus on vulnerability challenges us. ‘When the barrier [to courageous trust] is our belief about vulnerability, the question becomes: ‘Are we willing to show up and be seen when we can’t control the outcome?’ When the barrier to vulnerability is about safety, the question becomes: ‘Are we willing to create courageous spaces so we can be fully seen? ’
What are the implications for us as we navigate cross-cultural relationships in our life and work? How do we navigate them as those trusted by God to be a part of his purposes of revealing himself and inviting our friends into relationship with him, as he has done for us?
We will need to learn how to embrace vulnerability in offering ourselves to our friends and their community. There is the vulnerability of being known, living love and self-giving by being fully present in our communities. I wonder if the incarnation should be read as one of God’s great acts of trust extended to us. In an act of vulnerability, he made himself present among us. Can we ‘create courageous spaces’ so we can be fully seen?
It will be more about who we are than what we do. While we need those places of connections, programmes like language classes or play groups, cultural centres or development projects, they create shared spaces in which we can be seen. They are not the end game, nor are they simply a means to an end. They are the spaces of relational connection where we get to offer ourselves, as an act of trust, to the community.
Programmes and events will be created with intentional relational connectivity at their core. I am not advocating anything goes programmes. Where we have much to learn is in building relational connection into what we do. Without intentionality, we hope it happens and we rely on a spoken message to communicate the relational heart of God. Creating opportunity to build relational connections goes beyond just the programme.
Maybe we can ask ourselves, ‘what trust and vulnerability barriers challenge the way I am navigating the relationships I have with my Muslim friends?’ ‘How can I create ‘courageous spaces’ where I can be fully seen?’
Featured image: krakenimages on Unsplash
Image: Melissa Askew on Unsplash
© When Women Speak … June 2021
CH spent more than three decades in South Asia and the Middle East working in education, community development and the Church, and was part of Interserve’s International Leadership for nine years. She recently returned to a leadership role. Her research has included women’s activism and social change in South Asia, violence against women and missiology. She is currently focussed on developing new streams of ministry among women who live under Islam and enabling women academics and practitioners to shape missiology and mission practice. She holds a PhD in Gender Studies (Australian National University).