On trust

I watched “The Italian Job” last night. I hadn’t watched it in about 12 years or so, and had only seen it once before. Something that struck me is a saying of the main character’s father, which she repeats: “I trust everyone. It’s the devil inside them I don’t trust.”

That’s an intriguing line. I’d hold that theologically it’s somewhat off, but there’s a kernel of truth to it in that humanity is fallen. As a Catholic, I understand that we are all sinners in need of salvation (which is the free gift of God to us in Christ Jesus), though this is not intended to be really a “religious” post, but more a reflection on trust.

None of us are completely trustworthy, and some of us are more gullible or more suspicious than others. In the context of creative writing, this leads to some interesting questions regarding character development and crafting believable, relatable characters.

  • Gullibility or suspicion can be partly inherent, arising from temperament (cholerics and melancholics are by nature more prone to pessimism and suspicion than sanguines or phlegmatics). It can also be learned, the result of being burned in the past. Great characters have intriguing backstories. If you have a character who is jaded or suspicious, has something happened in their history to make them so?
  • Sometimes knowing our own sin, failures, and faults (if we are honest about our limitations) can bring us to extend suspicion or lack of trust to others. Is this the case with a character? Has (self-)knowledge bred contempt?
  • Plots hinge upon characters’ choices and actions. Sometimes this requires a character be duped, tricked, misled, or lied to by someone else. If you don’t intend for that character to come off as stupid or naive, make sure that they have credible reasons for trusting where they shouldn’t. Do your characters who trust wrongly have understandable reasons to do so?
  • Then there is the issue of trusting God, and all that goes into that. The Bible warns us, “Place not your trust in princes.” But it urges us always to trust the faithful, truthful God even when we cannot understand His ways. Not every story or writer, of course, will EXPLICITLY bring faith or religion into play. But every human being understands that religion and supernatural faith, or the lack thereof, play a part in human culture and development, and there is always a story behind an individual’s particular degree and kind of faith, whatever that be. Interestingly enough, I have found that it is people who do not believe in a supernatural God providently guiding the course of human events who are more apt to trust that human beings are perfectable in this life, that human nature is alterable or perfectable, and that a secular utopia is an achievable goal. People of supernatural faith tend to believe precisely the opposite. How does the supernatural faith or lack thereof of your characters influence their willingness or quickness to trust themselves and other people?

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