“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” ― Ernest Hemingway.

Watching a video of a man making friends with a stray and angry dog, I thought of how many people feel like that dog – afraid to trust. The dog had been abused in its home, and having a human reach toward it caused the dog to try to bite.

Wisely, the man set out food and let the dog eat. The only interaction was the man talking to the dog. This went on a while, and the dog started coming closer to the man little by little. It was an emotional moment when the man was able to pet the dog, all because the dog finally trusted this human after having been betrayed by others before.

They both had to choose to trust the other, but like Hemingway said, the best way to find out if you can trust someone is to trust them. Sounds easy, huh?

This began as a piece written to help us do better with trusting other people. I've noticed how people seem to be so quick to distrust others, and it bothers me. I was sure my research would show me that people are just too quick to judge others, which they often are, that people need to not be so hateful, which they need not be – answers that would be easy to write about.

I thought I'd be able to share my personal wisdom mixed in with the facts I found. And then I found the facts, and I discovered that the professionals said it starts with me with you, and so I began rethinking and rewriting my words.

Trustworthy. Are you? Trusting. Are you? What I've discovered about trust that threw me off my writing plan is it begins with trusting ourselves. At first, you might say, "Of course, I trust myself, move on." But do you really?

When you go to the store to purchase a product you've decided is what you need, and the salesperson or advertising tries to convince you that you need something else, who do you believe?

When you overeat, overdrink, overspend, you have great remorse and swear you'll not do that again. And do you trust how you felt then when the next opportunity to eat, drink, spend too much arises?

When you are mistreated, say by a spouse who hits you or a friend who gossips about you, and your gut tells you this is not right for you to be in that relationship, but you stay, you are definitely not trusting yourself.

When someone says, “What would you like to eat?” and you respond, “Oh, whatever you want to get is fine,” you aren't trusting yourself to have a worthy opinion. Yes, I see myself in that statement.

I trust most everyone – I've been called gullible – unless I get that feeling in my gut. But it seems I still have some work to do, just when I thought I was doing so well. Maybe you do, too.

Trusting yourself includes:

• Step one: Sit with and know yourself – sitting with your thoughts to know what you think is important. If we are so busy listening to what other people believe or think is right for us, we have no way to trust our own judgment.

• Step two: Adjust expectations – do you expect so much of yourself that you can't live up to? You'll chip away at your belief in yourself when you never see success, which means you'll find it difficult to trust yourself. Maybe we should dangle smaller carrots closer to our nose, so we see that we are able to achieve goals.

• Step three: Stay away from naysayers – We've all had people who beat us down by their words or their lack of support. When you spend too much time with 'those people', you begin to believe they must know something about you that you don't. Trusting them is not a good move.

• Step four: Trust yourself – I know, that's the point of this, but sometimes you just have to do it and see how it goes. You might not like the outcome, but you and I can learn from trusting ourselves. And the only way to trust ourselves is to do it.

Partial credit goes to Cynthia Wall, psychotherapist, and Elisha Goldstein, psychologist.

Once we find we can trust ourselves a little more, we can begin to work on trusting others. Living in and moving through a world in which we suspect other people all the time isn't a world for me. I tend to trust others until they've given me a reason to not trust them.

Start small. Don't tell all your secrets at one sitting only to be devastated when the other person's promise to keep it to themselves doesn't go as planned.

Start smart. Offer your trust to someone in an area in which they are usually confident – for instance, I'd probably not trust someone who has never painted to paint my house, unless I'm not picky about how it looks.

Start. Begin somewhere. If someone proves themselves to not be trustworthy, learn your lesson and move on, but don't stop trusting. In our willingness to risk, to expose a vulnerable part of ourselves, we gain friends and confidantes in sometimes unlikely places.

Living in fear of trusting people who look different, sound different, and think differently than I do is not my idea of a life well lived. I suppose this is why I so delight in seeing a cow and a tortoise, a monkey and a lion, and a dog and a deer become unlikely friends.

They had to trust, like the stray and the stranger, like you and I – it begins by taking a chance. Are you ready?

Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University who lives in Murfreesboro. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Sometimes, she matches her words and pictures. Always, she writes from her heart with the hope of speaking to the hearts of others.

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