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“Put more trust in nobility of character than in an oath” (Solon).
ULTIMATELY, THE ONLY THING THAT WILL MAKE PEOPLE FEEL SAFE IN THEIR INTERACTION WITH US IS THE TRUSTWORTHINESS OF OUR CHARACTER. There are times when our commitments will have to be backed up with oaths, vows, contracts, and collateral, but the bottom line is that if our inward character can’t be trusted, these external things aren’t enough to make people rest easy in their dealings with us. They’ll know that if our commitment to them ever becomes inconvenient, we’ll manage to find something in the fine print that will let us set aside our obligation to them.
But speaking of contracts and so forth, people who are truly trustworthy don’t mind signing such guarantees. Honorable people don’t object to having their word bound by social and legal safeguards, and you should be leery of the fellow who acts offended when you ask him to back up his word with a contract. Indeed, even with promises we make to ourselves, it’s often wise to strengthen private promises by placing them on record in some kind of public way. It’s not bad to have friends who can come and say, “But didn’t you make a promise?”
But the question of commitments that we make to ourselves raises an important point. One of the things we need most in life is confidence in our own integrity and reliability. We need to be able to trust ourselves, knowing deep inside that we will do whatever we commit ourselves to do. If our past record is such that we ourselves don’t have any confidence that we’ll follow through, it’s not realistic to expect that others will find us trustworthy. So the best thing we can do to be seen as trustworthy by our peers is to practice the daily discipline of making and keeping commitments to ourselves.
Whatever discipline it takes to build trustworthiness, that’s a discipline we need to adopt. There are few gifts we can give to others that will be any more appreciated. And trustworthiness is not just a gift; it’s an obligation. We owe it to others to do as we say we’ll do.
I would be true, for there are those who trust me;
I would be pure, for there are those who care;
I would be strong, for there is much to suffer;
I would be brave, for there is much to dare.
(Howard A. Wheeler)