Do You Trust Anonymous?

Anonymity iStock_000010799839Small.jpgIt may sound like one of the most obvious platitudes of all: trust increases as you get to know people.

After all, you wouldn’t hire a financial planner without talking to their references, would you? You wouldn’t hire a new employee without finding out their work history, would you?  You wouldn’t let your kid stay overnight with unknown neighbors, would you?  Don’t we always equate trust with transparency, openness, getting to know more about others? 

Well, not necessarily. In fact, sometimes—no. Like all trust-related things: it depends. Trust is a bit like Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of obscenity: you may know it when you see it, but it sure is hard to define.

Anonymous Blogger Meets Anonymous Blogger

Take the case of two anonymous law bloggers meeting in Las Vegas—“Ed” of Blawg Review  and “Kael” of Legally UnBound (Not their real names–I mean, what’d you expect?)  Both are distinguished in their fields.

Read “Kael’s” account of their meeting,  and you discover some serious, powerful ways in which anonymity does not decrease trust—it actually increases it. Anonymity can free you to speak truths. Anonymity forces people to confront you as you ‘really’ are, not as your accumulated biography. (Remember, part of Bernie Madoff’s charm was his resume–decidedly public, entirely non-anonymous).

More interesting is the question it raises about just “who” it is that you’re trusting when you trust someone anonymous. Here’s “Kael”:

What do I mean by persona? You see, all I know of Ed is what Ed allows me to see. While I’ve seen ‘him’ (the opinions and thought of Blawg Review), I have not seen ‘him’ (the man that may have been married and raised children). But the only Ed that I want to see is the Ed that he allows me to see. The same is true, from my end.  Thus, our trust and our relationship is based upon the information that each allows the other to see.

Much too often, I believe that our collective, societal opinion of a ‘trusting relationship’ is FULL DISCLOSURE. I disagree. I think that our curiosities about others and our desires to place judgments upon others is the basis (in part) of the relationships in which we engage. Our trust is therefore contingent upon the amount of disclosure we make to the other entity, instead of simply taking whatever disclosure is given and either finding a basis for commonality, or not.

The terms ‘keeping it real’ and ‘puttin’ my heart out there’ are all too commonly the basis for our understanding of what it means to ‘trust’. We don’t have to ‘keep it real’ to establish trust. We only have to identify the boundaries and the common goals, then allow for the personal disclosures to build the trust. Yes, personal disclosure is the key to trust, not TOTAL disclosure.

Principles Before Personalities

Ed and Kael (I’ll drop the quotes now, we know them well enough at this point) are not cranks. Some of the more successful organizations in the world are the 12-Step programs, originating in Alcoholics Anonymous.

The common view of “anonymous” is that meetings assure anonymity to those who don’t want outsiders to know of their condition. But the 12th Tradition (the organizational correlate of the 12 Steps for individuals) is “Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personality.”

In other words, the (main) purpose of anonymity is not to keep outsiders from knowing members’ names—it is to prevent members from forcing their particular biographies on others, both within and without the organization. You are trusted, in other words, if you remain anonymous, so that others can see that you speak only from your own inner truth, unclouded by your, and their, inevitable prejudices.  That way we minimize the judging that Kael speaks of.

Both Kael and AA speak the same truth: the ‘you’ that matters is not the ‘you’ of your lineage, your family name, your profession, your accent, or your resume. There is another authentic ‘you’ within, and—in a sense—that is the only ‘you’ that can be trusted.

Trust increases as you get to know people. Yes? Or no?

As with all things trust-related, and human-related–it depends.