Trust is a funny thing. So much of what we do and what happens in our lives is based on trust. We trust each other with something every day. We even trust strangers with things on a daily basis. We trust them to provide services for us, to give us what we need when we need it and do their jobs as expected. Sometimes we even trust them with our lives. Think of public transport. The driver of the bus, train, or matatu has your life in his hands. So does the pilot of the plane you take on your holiday to Lamu. And yet despite all this trust going around, we still struggle mightily with trust.

Mistrust is a worldwide problem. Human beings can be selfish and notoriously untrustworthy. It makes it hard for one to trust anyone because anyone is capable of being untrustworthy. Sometimes we don’t even trust ourselves. But mistrust sometimes feels like an even greater problem in Kenya. We don’t trust our partners to be honest and trustworthy in our relationships. We don’t trust people to be honest with us in business. We don’t trust the news. We don’t trust our government or our leaders. We don’t trust anyone.

Deceit has made life more complicated than it should be.

We have rules that seem to stifle us more than they help us. Inconveniences that aren’t really necessary become the norm. Look at the recently concluded elections in Kenya. Kenyans cannot trust that a fair election can be held, so no matter who wins the assumption (whether correct or not) is that some foul play was involved. The result? Drawn-out court cases and a nation that wastes time and money as it waits for an outcome that hopefully won’t lead to violence and bloodshed. And this isn’t exclusive to Kenya. Other countries around the world struggle with the same thing.

Petrol station attendants announce when they begin fueling your car to curb the menace of attendants overcharging and stealing from customers at the pump. Passengers share their Uber trips with close friends or family because they don’t trust that they will be safe on their journey.  We ask someone to watch our drinks at a bar or restaurant because we don’t trust that someone won’t spike them when we get up to go to the bathroom.

Our personal relationships don’t fare any better. We don’t trust our children to do the right thing, so we put excessive rules and restrictions on them to prevent them from being deviant. We don’t trust friends or family members not to judge us, so we lead double lives and keep things hidden from them. We don’t trust our partners to be faithful, so we spy on them and try to control them. Or even worse, we deny them opportunities because we don’t trust them to use them as they should. None of these things help to foster trust, nor do they do away with the mistrust we have in the first place. Often they make the situation worse and alienate the people close to us.

There is something freeing about placing your trust in someone.

There is less worry about what the person is doing or thinking. You spend less time looking over your shoulder (or someone else’s) and more time focusing on your own tasks and needs. It makes for a clearer and more peaceful mind, which we could all use. Trusting someone is empowering too. It can give the person you’ve placed your trust in the motivation they need to get something done. They may even do it better than they would if they were under constant suspicious scrutiny.

In the SpongeBob cartoon, SpongeBob asks his best friend Patrick, “What if I break your trust someday?” Patrick replies, “Trusting you is my decision, proving me wrong is your choice.” There’s some debate about whether trust is earned or given. It could be one or the other depending on many things, or it could be both. But there’s something special about trust being given as opposed to being earned. It would be difficult to give your trust to someone when the world has taught you otherwise. But maybe if we gave our trust to people more freely, it might inspire them to be more trustworthy.

Trusting people does not make one immune to being let down. In fact, it can often be the case that those we trust the most would also disappoint us the most. But that is part of life. It doesn’t make it okay or easier to deal with, but human beings are fallible and will disappoint at one point or another. Probably more than once. But the security of knowing that you have a person’s trust may be what you need to keep trying not to let them and others down. We shouldn’t trust blindly or too freely. That would be foolish.

But a little more trust going around may be what we need to reduce the struggle we have with trust itself.