Onion Theory: I want to be trustworthy

…and trustworthy means more than “I will keep your secrets and not tell people.” It means more than “I will do what I say I will do.”

It means…well…worthy of trust. If someone trusts me, I want to treat them well.

Socialization is always a two-way process. You teach people how to treat you (without even knowing it!), and people teach you how to treat them. So, to put it simply, in order to be the type of person that people trust, you must reward them for trusting you. This is the opposite of punishing them for trusting you.

So here are some guidelines that I have learned from watching people.

1. Be wise and careful making corrections.

As a taekwondo instructor, I once saw a diagram of four types of students, and how they should be treated. With searching (The internet changed the world, did it not?), I found that this is referred to as “Situational Leadership Theory”. Check this out…

If the student has low motivation and low competence: Direct them

If the student has low motivation and high competence: Support them (Be less task-oriented and more relationship-oriented)

If the student has high motivation and low competence: Teach them

If the student has high motivation and high competence: Delegate to them

I bring up this example not necessarily to apply it but to illustrate an attempt as wisdom in an approach. As a taekwondo instructor, if a high motivation/low competence student makes a mistake, and I punish/discipline them for that mistake, I am an idiot…that decision is a) totally unnecessary because, since they are high motivation, simply telling them would fix the technique and b) will kill their motivation. However, if a kid who is pretty good at taekwondo, pretty competent, is slacking off, I need to approach it differently, do I not?

So before we make any rash decisions about what to do if someone chooses to trust us, we need to evaluate the scenario with wisdom. Will telling him to stop accomplish anything? How difficult was it to confess it in the first place? Is he looking for accountability? Does he need a kick-my-butt friend, or does he need a shoulder? Maybe he needs some Scripture. Maybe he needs encouragement.

As a taekwondo instructor, I have often encouraged a student who really, what they needed was a butt-kicking. However, more often I have seen people directed and bossed around when really, what they needed was a double-dose of encouragement.

2. Step back and actually put yourself in their shoes.

Paul, a 16 year old, just admitted to his parents that he has been having sex with his girlfriend. Paul is a Christian, as are his parents. So, put yourself in Paul’s shoes for a second. You will probably find…

a)      Admitting that to his PARENTS must’ve taken an immeasurable amount of courage.

b)      Since he admitted it, he probably already knows that it is wrong.

c)      Since he admitted it, he has taken an important action towards breaking free of this addiction.

d)      He probably feels trapped. He has probably tried to stop, but has fallen back into the temptation.

e)      There is probably a tension between him and his girlfriend, considering that they both have a secret. He will need all the emotional support he can get.

(In the above example, feel free to replace PARENTS with any word you want, like sister, brother, youth pastor, friend, teacher, whatever.)

Based on this, we can know that a) we don’t have to kick his butt, he is already kicking his own butt, and the Holy Spirit is probably working him over right now. Especially if he had the balls to tell you. b) we don’t need to tell him that it is wrong, or about the risks. He already knows.

What he needs is not for you to quote the “Flee from sexual immorality” verse but the “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!” verse. And he needs to know that you are behind him, that you are there for him no matter what.

3. To trust is a difficult decision. Compliment them for it.

“Thanks for trusting me. That sounds like something that’s difficult to admit.”

“You’re a strong person, going through that.”

Some people are in the habit of punishing people for trust. You can punish them in several different ways. Correcting them when they haven’t asked for advice or trusted you with that task (that type of correction feels incredibly invasive), getting mad at them (whether it’s for something they admitted to doing wrong, or they just trusted you with their political position), or even just failure to listen.

Because remember: Getting mad at somebody or getting “offended” makes no correction in their behavior whatsoever. You didn’t correct their behavior, you “corrected” their honesty, their trust. You punished them for trusting you or for opening up to you, so they will probably make sure not to do that again.

Can you be the type of person who can survive this? Your wife tells you: “It FREAKING ANNOYS me when you leave the towel on the floor!” and you say “…thanks for telling me that.” It would take one heck of a man to do that. How about if your wife said it calmly? “Honey, it upsets me when you leave your towel on the floor.” Would you snap back at your wife? If you would, you are teaching her not to be honest with you.

Can you survive your girlfriend saying “Let’s just be friends” without complaining or playing the martyr? If so, you are a master at this.

In conversation, Fred says that “I don’t think abortion is wrong…some people shouldn’t be parents.” As a pro-lifer, do you get mad at him? If so, you don’t change his mind…you simply teach him that you are not somebody who he should have this conversation with.

Somebody at church says “I’m not really convinced that Jesus is the Son of God.” How do you handle it?

Can you reward trust, even in a tough scenario? Or do you punish trust?

I want to be the person who rewards it.

Onion Theory: To Trust or not to Trust – The consequences

“There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one,     not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.” -C.S. Lewis, “The Four Loves”


Social penetration theory says that a relationship only progresses from superficial to intimate through a gradual (in other words, not rapid-fire) and orderly process of self-disclosure. Although I am not a sociologist (think of me as simply an interested observer, reading articles, watching people, and recording my findings), I would like to add the word “mutual” to those words.


In the last post, we talked about choosing self-disclosure vs. self-concealment. People that you love, you tend to reveal yourself to as opposed to hiding yourself from. There is a great risk in that…and I am not for a moment suggesting that you should do this for everybody. Do not think that I am saying “It’s wrong for you to conceal yourself!”

However, if you make the choice to always conceal yourself, it will have an effect on your relationships.

Because remember, we all get to choose our actions, but we do not get to choose the consequences. Sally and Bob can say “Oh, forget all this waiting, let’s just start having sex!” They’ve made a decision. However, if they say “I have a great idea. Let’s start having sex, and let’s not get pregnant or get mad at each other despite the lack of commitment!” They don’t get to choose the consequences.


So let there be no doubt: Self-disclosure is risky. Let them know what you really think, how you really feel, what you really struggle with, and it is quite possible that you might be judged or bullied or treated like you need another mommy to tell you what to do or whatever.

However, if you never disclose yourself and you always hide yourself, don’t be surprised if you don’t have “deep” friendships. Don’t be surprised if the kids in your youth group don’t tell you what they’re really struggling with. Don’t be surprised if people talk with you less and less. These are the consequences of always concealing yourself. You can choose to always conceal yourself…you can’t choose whether your family, friends, or significant others respond well to it.


So what if your friends break that trust? Well, some of them will. But, not as many as you think. When I confessed my past errors (namely, sexual immorality) to other Christians, I was met with mercy, compassion, a listening ear, and often mutual trust.

Now, there were a couple who brought it up at their convenience as a beating stick, allowing themselves a sense of power (moral high ground, if you will) to win a debate or to offer their insights into what path I needed to take for my spiritual development. However, the joy of not having to keep secrets, the bond of friends who responded to my risky decision of trust, responding with the Christ-like qualities listed above, and the still-continuing encouragement of friends who said “Thanks for telling me that! I struggled with that too, and it’s so good to hear that I’m not alone!” have shown me that when considering the risk, the benefits far outweigh the costs.

If they break that trust, it will hurt. But what you will gain is greater than the hurt you might feel, trust me.


Being considerate with our self-disclosure

So should we trust everybody with everything? No. But I do not say that out of self-protection, I say this because Social Penetration Theory mentions that the deepening of friendship should happen gradually. If somebody walks up to me and starts talking about their five messy divorces within the first minute of us talking to them…it would make me feel awkward. Now, I would assume that if they are talking about it that early, then it is burning on their heart and I can be helpful by listening. However, since this situation naturally makes me feel awkward, then I should take note that spilling my guts out to somebody who hardly knows me would make them feel awkward, and I should refrain.

However, when the time comes, I would like to be the kind of person who takes the risk first. I feel that this is a considerate thing to do, because I don’t want them to have to take that risk.


Also, I would like to be the type of person who rewards this self-disclosure. And being that type of person, well, that is what I’d like to cover next post.

Hope you are still along for the ride!

Onion Theory: What, exactly, is self-disclosure?

At this point, I would like to return to Social Penetration Theory (if you haven’t read that post, click here) and explore what “self-disclosure” really means. Let us examine it in contrast to the opposite, self-concealment.


Nobody fights like family!

Let’s take a look at this phenomenon: Has anybody noticed that the people that you get in the most fights with are the people closest to you? As an example, nobody fights more than family. My mom (whom I loved dearly) and I got in so many arguments and bickering. Also, I think that my sisters argued and bickered with my mom more than anybody else, especially as we were growing up. In fact, Dawnine (my oldest sister) seemed to have this incredible connection with my mom that I cannot explain, and she fought with mom more than Tara or myself put together.

So if this hypothesis is true, that the closer you are, the more you fight, then my question is this: What causes what? Do you fight more because you are closer? Or the unthinkable…are you closer because you fight more?

I am about to defend the latter. I think you become closer because you fight more.


But fighting is bad…isn’t it?

Now before someone plays semantics with me and says “we don’t fight, we discuss,” I am looking for good, non-cheesy ways to say it. Perhaps “initiate a conflict” is a good way to put it. Perhaps “stand up for yourself” is a good way to put it, although it sounds self-serving so I don’t like it. I am going to simply tie it all back to communication.

And what I want you to remember, dear reader, is that at these decision points, we are going to choose to a) conceal ourselves or b) disclose/reveal ourselves. If we choose to conceal ourselves, the relationship will stay where it is. If we choose to reveal ourselves, the relationship will deepen.

Let’s take an example so trivial as this: You are annoyed when somebody chews with their mouth open, and makes this loud smacking noise. Now, if it is simply an acquaintance, or if somebody is over at your house for the first time, you hold your tongue and say nothing (you conceal yourself) in the interest of politeness. However, if it is a very close friend of yours, or your spouse, you communicate (hopefully in a tactful way) that you find it annoying (you reveal yourself). I do not disagree with either scenario…I think you should hold it back for politeness for the acquaintance. I also think that you should communicate it for a closer friend.

Now, someone might think “Why create a conflict over something so trivial as that?” However, keep in mind, the tension is already there because whether you should be or not, you are annoyed. What would really suck is to not communicate it for a year, and tell your friend a year later, leaving them to realize that they have been annoying you for a year and not even knowing it.


The face we put on because we know we’re supposed to…

First of all, everybody has a good side. Everybody also has a sinful side. Nobody seems to mind showing their good side. People hide their sinful side. Sometimes it is for good reasons (politeness) and sometimes it is for bad reasons (pride, fear of judgment).

So in the above scenario, Billy knows that loud smacking noises are a very trivial thing to get upset over…how much does it really affect the world if someone smacks when they chew? So Billy puts on a “I should act like this” face, not revealing what he is really feeling.

Janice goes to a Bible study with a bunch of other girls that go to her church. Out of eight girls, four of them always seem constantly and unendingly chipper. Seriously. They are always smiling, always high energy, and always enthusiastic. However, this Bible study happens to be in the morning, and Janice is not a morning person. Also, Janice is in a hard place…last night, she got off the phone with her real dad, the one who cheated on her mom and ran off with some other woman when Janice was only 8, leaving her childhood in pieces. Her dad calls and acts like it never happened, and he really wants her to meet his new girlfriend. And guess what? Janice is enraged. There’s really no other way to put it.

So here she is, at a Bible study with these chipper girls, and they study the second half of Matthew 18, the parable about the ruler who forgave debt (teaching forgiveness, right)? And these chipper, enthusiastic girls talk in chipper, enthusiastic voices about how we all should forgive because God forgave us. But Janice is concealing herself, because of the rage and bitterness she is feeling.

Janice knows how she should act. She knows that she should forgive her dad…no one needs to teach her that as if she doesn’t already know. She knows that to not forgive her dad in light of how much Jesus has forgiven her for is totally preposterous. But she still feels the rage. So instead of revealing what she feels, she puts on an “I should act like this” face. She especially doesn’t want to reveal herself to these enthusiastic, chipper girls. Have they ever experienced anger? Have they ever even been grumpy in the morning? It sure doesn’t seem like it.


Before I move on, do I have something against enthusiastic, chipper girls? No. Not at all. But I ask the question: If we hide our sinful nature, does it actually go away? No. In fact, would you believe me if I told you that letting our sinful natures show is one of the steps to allowing God, through the Holy Spirit and through other Christ-followers, to eradicate that sin?

I struggle as I type this, because I wouldn’t want people to apply it by yelling at people at their Bible study because they don’t like their hair. However, it seems to me that God is not interested in us hiding our sins…He is interested in helping us put those sins to death. Hiding them accomplishes nothing.


I’m going to add some cautions next post…but for now, understand that you don’t attain deeper friendships by demanding that people spend more time with you. You attain deeper relationships with friends the same way you attain a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. For Jesus Christ, you trust Him with yourself. Would you believe me (this probably sounds like total heresy) if I said that in order to attain deeper friendships, you must trust your friends with yourself?


Next post, I answer two questions:

  1. Trusting your friends with “yourself” sounds risky…what if they break that trust?
  2. Do I have to trust everybody? (The answer is no, don’t worry)