The prince meets the world with trust – with an open heart. A random man pounds the heart with his fist, injuring it. The wizard sees the prince’s distress. The wise wizard gives the prince a sword to hold in the other hand, so that he can defend himself when there is a risk that someone might injure his heart again.

''Once upon a time, there was a man who met the world with trust- holding his heart in one hand and his sword in the other.''

The notion of trust

According to the Oxford Dictionaries, trust is a firm belief in the reliability, truth or ability of someone or something.

I am convinced that a world that is built on trust is better than a world built on ­distrust. Trust can bring out the best in people but also, sadly, the worst (in the form of exploitation and manipulation when someone takes advantage of ­someone who is too trusting of the abuser; in this case, both persons need to engage in a ­development effort to enhance their understanding of trust, integrity and ­ethics). Distrust can lead to unkindness and poor quality of life.

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Used constructively, ­however, in an explorative process, distrust can lead to new insights and help you strike the right balance between trust and the ability to defend yourself.

The art is to balance your degree of trust with the specific situation with due ­consideration for the status of your defence system. The more updated, nuanced and evolved your personal defences are, the better able you will be to meet the world with an open heart while still being able to act rapidly to preserve your ­integrity.

An effective, nuanced defence also means that the emotional impact of negative experiences plays a lesser role in the present moment and in your encounters with other people. According to the article The Neuroscience of Trust in Harvard Business Review (2017), trust is the most important component in building a strong ­organizational culture. High-trust cultures make us 106% more energetic, 76% more engaged at work and 29% more satisfied with our lives. According to the Danish philosopher K. E. Løgstrup, trust is a basic human trait, whereas distrust is acquired. We all have positive and negative experiences with trust, from early childhood and throughout our lives; a long personal history that influence our experiences of the world and our encounters with other people, for better and worse.

Thus, when a person, a company or a society seeks to enhance trust, the forces at play are profound. It is far from enough simply to speak of behavioural changes as a way to build trust. We need a different approach entirely, one that engages the human mind on a deeper level.


Our personal emotional defences developed during early childhood, a time when our survival depended on our parents, and our own agency was limited. When it comes to meeting the world with an open heart, the prince in the ­illustration has not learned how to keep himself safe. He is completely taken aback by the ­reality he encounters and is unequipped to defend himself. He fails to notice the danger signs and even if he did, he does not have the right tools to protect himself. As an adult, he will have to engage in an active development effort in order to update his defences and thus acquire the tools he needs to be able to meet the world with an open heart.

The art is to meet the world with an open heart in one hand – and an updated ­defence in the other that we can quickly activate if the need arises.

In his book The Speed of Trust, Stephen R. Covey discusses 13 behaviours that ­characterize strong, trust-building leadership and outlines specific behaviours we can use to generate trust.

As with most efforts intended to achieve profound behavioural and perceptual changes, in my experience, it is not enough to speak, read or hear about things – ­we need to go deep enough to engage our emotions, because emotions change our ­perception. In fact, emotions are perception.

Posters, trust cards or good intentions may be a fine start to a development ­journey, but they are far from sufficient for us to develop the capacity to display the ­desired ­behaviour. Not when the behavioural changes we are aiming for are so profound. And definitely not when every single behavioural change ­fundamentally rests on what is the biggest single challenge for people in modern society: the lack of ­self-­esteem and, thus, the ability to imbue ourselves and the things that are ­important to us with significance. Significance and love are keywords in most of the personal challenges we all face – including building and maintaining trust.

Stephen R. Covey’s 13 excellent ideas fortrust-building behaviours are Talk straight, Demonstrate respect, Create transparency, Right wrongs, Show ­loyalty, Deliver ­results, Get better, Confront reality, Clarify expectations, Practise ­accountability, ­Listen first, Keep commitments and Extend trust. Each of these behaviours is ­associated with a list of positive and negative statements that expands our ­understanding but also gives us even more we have to remember. However, the big ­question remains, what does it take to achieve real behavioural change? The answer is reflection and deliberate engaging acts that strengthen our relations – with clients, colleagues, friends, family members and life partners. Our focus has to be on imbuing ourselves and our relationships with significance, ­investing ­ourselves, enhancing contact and using all our sensory and logical information as a basis for building trust. The ultimate purpose of this effort is to develop ­self-esteem. That provides more strength to ‘talk straight’, for example – something that is hard to do if we rely on approval from others. High self-esteem reduces that need ­considerably.

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