There’s a suggestion by some researchers that the more collectivist a society is, the less likely people are to trust someone who is not an insider to their group. That asks questions like: who trusts who? and with what? or to do what?  What are the relationship lines along which trust flows? Sometimes we find that as outsiders with no connections, people will trust us with some of their secrets.  What is the role of outsider/insider? What is the relationship between trust and honour?

A colleague wrote: I’ve been thinking about trust and it’s relationship to some things [like] the rise of hoaxes and conspiracy theories as people struggle with uncertainty and have lost trust in authorities, including medical professionals. I’ve also been wondering how can we prove ourselves to be people of integrity in this environment. I think being humble and vulnerable with people is significant.

As an outsider I’ve definitely been entrusted with secrets that people wouldn’t tell others, usually shameful matters connected to abuse, violence, wayward children. If they are not in danger I let them know I won’t share it with others. However, it’s more complex when it involves children. If I feel there’s something that needs sharing or they want me to help resolve a conflict I ask what parts of the conversation can be shared.  This is quite different to the gossip that is the norm and they seem to appreciate that I check.

[At the same time] it is also true that as outsiders it can be harder to gain trust and I can see the collectivist culture influencing that.  When COVID-19 arrived each neighbourhood put their physical and relational barriers up – we were accepted as insiders and bonds even grew in our own neighbourhood but we were to be feared outside of our neighbourhood.

In normal life when illness is not a threat being a part of several communities helps with trust  – neighbourhood women’s group, university group, community development group etc.  Name drop a relevant community group at the right moment in a conversation and you’re no longer viewed as a lone foreigner but part of the local network.  We might not have family connections but it’s the next best thing. If they doubt our character at least they have ways to find out about us now!

When another friend responded she said: For many years [stating] ‘I teach at …. uni’ has been a key to being accepted by villagers and townspeople alike, as everyone knows someone who is studying or has studied where I work.  I feel this gives me a ‘she is one of us’ status.   Likewise belonging in a street and a neighbourhood.

Having a reputation as someone who doesn’t gossip or break confidence is sometimes misunderstood as being standoffish, but over time leads to some deeper relationships.

Here, despite or because of the collectivist culture, there is a very high level of distrust and lack of transparency between family members and friends. I think this is related to the need to save face. Of course, honour and shame paradigm is also found in collectivist cultures. So when friends tell me they don’t lie to me, but they do lie to their family and their friends, I’m not sure whether we are moving towards trust, or whether they are even telling me the truth.

Is this different for those who move countries? One worker wrote: I work among the diaspora – and here, as women and their families arrive, often without family or connections, they don’t know who to trust. One friend told me that she had been told ” never trust Christians. They lie and cheat” However, she continued, “you are not like that at all.” When we first met she was alone, with a new baby and rejected by her community. She thought I would visit once and then not come back. (the visits were a bit hard going for both of us as we didn’t speak each other’s language!) I kept coming back; I helped her with her baby and connected her with other believers who loved her as well. What I realise now is that we earned her trust. Her community – even a close friend keep betraying her but we support her.

Another family also new to Australia has been very open with me about their situation but do not tell their family in their home country. Another friend confides in me but will not speak heartfelt things with her closest friend from her country (who lives here) because of the shame and rejection she would face from that community. These families trust believers they know with their own children.

A few thoughts… 1. trust is earned by demonstrating trustworthiness 2. lack of trust in their community doesn’t mean they don’t love their community or want to be with them 3. trust is about shame and honour – revealing things you need to reveal or asking for help from those who do not threaten their honour in their community;  4. it still takes time to build a solid relationship with her even if she entrusts you with important things.   5. Trust is pragmatic… it comes out of need – and in the west, non Muslims are the ones who can meet their need/provide the help they require.

The role of the believer is to be trustworthy beyond their expectations, bearing witness to Christ’s trustworthiness.

How do you navigate different understandings of trust across the cultures you live and work among?

© When Women Speak… March 2023

This blog is part of a conversation that practioners who are part of the When Women Speak network have had on the topic of trust.

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