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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Situational Trust

For what reasons might someone be suspicious of you and withhold their trust? How do you win over those who are suspicious of you? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, pp. 595-6).

Situation Ethics: [Joseph] Fletcher [who wrote in the 1960s] believed that there are no absolute laws other than the law of Agapē love and all the other laws were laid down in order to achieve the greatest amount of this love. This means that all the other laws are only guidelines to how to achieve this love, and thus they may be broken if the other course of action would result in more love (Wikipedia).

I begin a discussion of today's questions regarding trust with a reference to “Situational Ethics” because the withholding or giving of trust most essentially involves the concept of situational appropriateness. Situational trust simply means that we seldom extend trust absolutely regardless of the situation—rather, we ask a “coping” question—can I trust the person in question to cope well in this situation (and not some other, or in some absolute sense). That is, our trust in another is implicitly qualified by the situation. I may trust my doctor absolutely as a physician, but extend him no trust whatever in some area outside of his expertise. Likewise, a parent may have great trust in their teenage son or daughter in some areas, but extend them little trust to drive responsibly under conditions of peer pressure. The son or daughter may in turn trust their parents in many situations, but never to be cool in front of their teenage friends. The examples could go on and on—all demonstrating that trust is extended in terms of situational ability.

Thus, in answer to the question “for what reasons might someone be suspicious of you and withhold their trust” we must look at the perceived ability to cope given a specific situation. To increase trust, one must either increase their ability in the given situation, or else change the situation to one in which they hold greater ability. Perceived competence in a given area is necessary to win over the trust of others. In this sense, trust is always extended or withheld as situational trust.

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