In last week’s post, I raised a chicken-or-egg question based on the recently discovered correlation between trustfulness and ease of reading people. Does trustfulness actually improve our ability to spot the bad guys? Or do people with good intuitions have the luxury of trusting because they’re already so good at spotting the few who aren’t trustworthy?

I concluded that the former was true. One reader wrote me about how this conclusion played out in her personal experience. She kindly gave me permission to share her story, without disclosing her name.

She writes:

When I was fresh out of college, I was quite cynical and untrusting.  Ironically, the person who taught me to be more trusting was a con artist I dated for a little over 6 months (so the statement about the cynics being more likely to be taken advantage of certainly rang true for me).  I remember talking to him about trust and how I didn’t trust anyone to which he responded saying that I drive a car and feel safe doing so.  Therefore, I unwittingly trust thousands of people, from the tire manufacturer to the seatbelt installer and let’s not forget about other drivers, construction workers who build huge bridges and overpasses, etc. ad nauseum.  While he meant for it to be a diversionary tactic, he really did have a point.  Since then, I have been more trusting and don’t feel like I have been taken advantage of in the years following my time with him.

What a great story! First of all, it addresses the chicken-or-egg question. The woman got taken in by a con artist while she was suspicious and cynical. But after opening herself up to trust, she found that she was not taken advantage of.

Secondly, her experience got me thinking about another possible explanation for what, to many, must seem like a surprising pattern—the trust comes first, and the intuition follows. Recalling people I’ve known who seem suspicious of everyone, I realize that they were under constant pressure and stress. It showed in their faces, their tense postures, and their tight voices. And no wonder! It must be a tremendous burden trying to navigate this world if one is constantly distracted by fears of how everyone might take advantage them. No one does their best thinking under stress or while distracted.

Conversely, the reader who shared the story strikes me as calm, relaxed and thoughtful. That’s why she’s so good at building consensus.

Moreover, if we hold everyone we meet at arms length, we don’t gain enough experience with different types of people to develop our intuition. Intuition is not hocus-pocus. It’s empirical reasoning, recognizing trends. But we need plenty of data points in order for the trends we recognize to be valid and reliable.

We might not be consciously aware of the common denominators we recognize in untrustworthy people. These may include cues such as a person’s voice shifting to a higher pitch or fidgeting when they are lying. But lying is not the only thing that can cause people to fidget. That’s why we need plenty of data points. And if we never trust anyone, we don’t amass any data points at all.

Finally, this reader’s story offers a thought that might encourage any cynics out there to take the plunge and experiment with trust: We trust thousands of people every time we get behind the wheel of a car, and in the vast, vast majority of cases, that trust is validated when we arrive at our destination without incident.

Many thanks to the woman who shared this story. Other readers love real life examples.