His secrets he tells you,
your secrets he keeps.
(from AN 7.35 tr. Thanissaro Bhikkhu)
What is trust in the context of friendships, and how does mutual trust come about?
If we trust someone, we have confidence that they will keep their commitments to us, will not gossip about us, and will be there when we need them. Likewise, if we are a trusted friend, we will keep our commitments to them, not gossip about them, and will respond without hesitation if we are needed.
Only a person’s accumulated words and actions can produce trust. One encounter, unless it’s remarkable, tells us only a little about how someone usually behaves. This is why the Buddha said we have to live with someone over a long period of time before we come to know them. For example, one enormous act of generosity gives a positive impression. Daily acts of generosity, as a matter of course, week after week, tell us more. If someone witnesses an encounter where we’re dealing with a stressful situation or an extremely difficult person, we may not look so good; someone who knows us well might perceive that this is an exception (that we regret) to our usual way of being with others.
A trustworthy person is not a gossip. If an acquaintance gossips about others regularly, it might be wise not to add your news to her cache of information. If you probe someone for news of another person and are met with reluctance or refusal, that might be a sign that any confidences you share with this person will be guarded.
When we do share private thoughts with others, we are taking a risk. While gossiping for no reason is never a good idea, sometimes we need to share unformed ideas or questions with someone, knowing that our words won’t be used against us.
The enduring friend can be identified by four things: by telling you secrets, guarding your own secrets closely, not abandoning you in misfortune, and even dying for you.
(DN31.23 translated Kelly et al)
This verse is similar to the opening one, with the significant addition of “not abandoning you in misfortune, and even dying for you.” The circumstances in which we die for our friends are so few and so specialized that I’m not going to address them here. But not abandoning friends in misfortune – well, that one is significant. When we trust someone, we trust that they will come to our aid when needed, even unasked. I once read a situation wrong and didn’t go to the out-of-town funeral of a close friend’s father. It was a mistake with painful consequences for me and my friend.
One other feature of trust in a friendship is keeping our commitments to each other. A true friend will not make promises she can’t keep, or back out of a commitment simply because it’s inconvenient. We need to show up for each other if we’re going to count as friends. For all these reasons, friendships characterized by trust are rare and beautiful.
Are you a trusted friend to someone? Do you have friends that you deeply trust?