An Indian Civilizational Perspective

Trusting Strangers Can be Rewarding and Enriching!

Have you opened your heart lately to anyone?  Some stranger at that?

So many times, one walks through so many paths where one meets strangers with absolutely no apparent relationship and we strike a chord.  Sometimes we open up far more to each other than hearts.  We open our lives and also our homes.  Yes, there are some very dark people out there who can harm you.  But then trust in humanity should not be killed just because of the fear of the few.  Life lived with trust of humanity and adventure of meeting with strangers is a far more fulfilled life!

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We are told from our childhood to not trust strangers.  Yet, it has been seen that as people deal with unknown folks – total strangers – trust increases somehow.  Psychologists are calling it “excessive trust”.  Excessive because trust rose much higher than expected given the normal wisdom of reducing risk and being cynical in a world that is adversarial.  Professor David Dunning shared their very interesting paper – Trust at Zero Acquaintance More a Matter of Respect Than Expectation of Reward May 2014’s issue of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology:

Synopsis of the paper
Synopsis of the paper

In a very interesting article in Wired, Rachel Botsman shares the experience of a couple – her coursin Anthony – who was engaged to someone he had met on Tinder, the dating app.  They had within a matter of days shared the most private information with each other.

“We’ve gone from hook-up to chuppah in less than six months,” Anthony declared in his toast. Intrigued, I asked them how many messages they exchanged before they met face-to-face. It turned out they had sent more than 150 texts to each other, over the course of three days. “I started to share genuine things about myself that I would normally keep hidden for some time,” his fiancée told me. “I felt like I didn’t just know him, but actually trusted him.”

Is it just in our nature to trust strangers or the anonymity of technology that helps accentuate the trust?  Probably both.  Rachel calls it the “Trust Stack”!  They need to trust the idea, the platform and also each other.

As I researched platforms that depend on person-to-person trust, I saw that there is a common pattern. In the first layer, people have to trust that a new idea will work and is safe. The next layer is trusting the platform or third party facilitating the exchange. And the third layer is trusting the other user. I call this process the trust stack.

Our Tryst with Trust

My wife and I once went to Pensacola beach in Florida.  We tried a new way of booking the room.  Instead of a normal hotel, we looked for a bed and breakfast online and came across Airbnb.  We ended up staying with a lovely old couple who lived in a lakefront home.  Roger and XXXX were friendly and nice and opened up everything to us.  The morning after we landed there, we were sipping tea on their deck facing the lake.  What a sight it was!  That night when we sat with the couple, while they watched TV, I couldn’t help but ask – “Doesn’t the fact that you don’t know the people who come and stay with you make you afraid?”  Roger smiled and said “There is an element of danger yes, but we cannot live our lives based on our fears.  Besides we get to meet some excellent people, all of whom are vetted somewhat by Airbnb.”

When we came back after some months, we tried to share our separate street level suite with other people via Airbnb.  The result has been 3 different people whom we had not known and who enriched our lives tremendously.  One became a very close friend and is like family to us now!  He and us have cooked together and done small home projects together.  And this was someone we never knew.


How ridiculous the idea looked like before it became a billion dollar business, and how the founders took it to its current level is shared by Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia!

Trust in the new era

Admittedly, people have an inherent quality of trusting strangers – per Dunning’s paper shared earlier.  Technology is also making it easier for us to trust things on the net and social media even when the rigor may not be there.  Trust in institutions is coming down and it is being replaced by trust in what is there on the net.  This is also clearly visible in how and what kind of news people are coming to trust now.  IN the current political era where there is a distrust of the media linked to politicians and ruling elite, the institutional media doesn’t inspire trust even though its work has an editorial rigor.  The social media, on the other hand, which unabashedly shares even inaccurate and outlandish stuff for most part, has come to be trusted more as a news source!  In fact, in a study it came out that 40% of the people use Facebook as a news source!

We are not only trusting strangers with our homes and our money but also our minds (which are shaped by the news and views we read).  And, this has grown manifold due to the impact of technology which brings totally unrelated people together.

Featured Image Source: Pixabay

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