What does it take to trust?

‘Trust yourself, then you will know how to live.’  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Lewis Carroll was a powerful and precise storyteller, weaving magic that has disturbed and delighted generations of children.

His dialogue laid bare human foibles, his characters magnified our social charades; with exquisite skill, he crafted a confounding and unsettling hall of mirrors for the meek, the naïve, the well-meaning.

In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the King’s advice to the White Rabbit still resonates: “Begin at the beginning and go on until you come to the end; then stop.”

If only it were that simple.

Today we operate in a vast networked expanse of giant mirrors, a maze beyond our wildest dreams (or nightmares), where ‘the beginning’ is hard to pinpoint and ‘the end’ is opaque or too frightening to contemplate.

In this world, they say, the new currency is trust.

The catch: we’re apparently hardwired not to trust, or to be very careful about whom we trust. A few biological iterations back, misplaced trust could have turned us into some predator’s breakfast.

Socially, we know we must trust each other enough to get things done, to raise children, to wage wars. Someone has to have our back, to pay our bills, to tend us when we’re sick.

In that sense, not much has changed since the caves and prairies. In a complex, volatile environment, with threats coming from all sides, trust helps us get things done.

And yet. Is trusting enough enough?

What drove Leonardo da Vinci to push the boundaries of knowledge, of art, of music? That propelled Marie Cure across the sciences to discover radioactive isotopes? That led Frank Lloyd Wright to build a house across a waterfall?

Whom (or what) did they trust throughout the process of conception and creation, destruction and renewal, exhilaration and despair?

Themselves.

One assumes they didn’t need ‘leaders’ to tell them what to do (just as well, if you follow Edelman’s depressing trust research). They just did it.

Through pitiless self-examination, by pressing hard on the bruises of love and loss, they reached the core. They stripped truth back to Truth and followed its lead, drawn by the barest hint of something magnificent waiting to emerge.

Trust in their vision, their quest, drew others to them but in the end, it was they who owned it and drove it. They understood ‘why’ at its deepest and darkest and with that knowledge were armed to live, to love and achieve.

Begin at the beginning, the King said, and he was right.

This post was first published on Patches and Nodes.