When I was a child, my sisters and I had a phrase we’d use with each other to ensure the legitimacy of a claim. The automatic assumption was that anything not accompanied by “trust words” was suspicious.
For instance, I could say something like, “Mom said to tell you to c’mere and I think she’s angry.” My older sister would then issue a challenge by replying, “Trust words?”
For context, my sisters and I often intentionally deceived one another. When “trust words” was evoked, the agreed upon rule was that there could be no manner of deception or pranking in relation to the authenticated message.
Thinking back to the well-earned skepticism, there were sufficient antics which warranted the need for a method of narrative verification. The fundamental principle underling “trust words” was the promise of truthfulness. For that moral code, I remain grateful.
Currently, I consider how there is no inherent agreement relating to trust in relation to most of the people with whom I maintain contact. I wonder if others maintain a similar experience.
For the overwhelming majority of people I’ve ever known, if a person promises to present information as accurately as possible I remain skeptical. I’ve rarely had a longstanding relational bond through which I’ve cultivated faith enough to earnestly believe what I’m told at face value.
When I’ve expressed this detail to others, some have attempted to label me. I’ve been told about how people with my perceived attachment style, astrological sign, personality type, arbitrary identity composition (e.g., biracial), and history of trauma tend towards skepticism.
As farfetched as some of those assertions are, less charitable actors have tried shaming me for being as I am. I suppose it’s a healthy aspect of my alleged wretchedness that attempts at shaming me have rarely ever worked.
Nonetheless, over the years, I’ve been advised to trust various sources of information. Regarding such instruction, I think about what a friend once told me about her father’s expressed caution, “Never trust people who tell you to trust them.”
When enlisting in the Marine Corps, my recruiter encouraged me to trust him—there was a Marie installation in every city of the United States (U.S.). There wasn’t.
When in graduate school for social work, I was invited to “trust the process” when logic and reason were abandoned for emotion and activism—supposedly because “social justice warriors” were on the “right side of history.” We weren’t.
When in 2017 I became aware of information relating to QAnon—a supposed esoteric collective of individuals who notified people to “trust the plan” in regards to sociopolitical matters—I learned that the group was said to maintain insider knowledge that would save the U.S. It didn’t.
When experiencing the U.S. government’s authoritarian response to COVID-19 for almost three years, I was continuously directed to “trust the science”—because answers to questions our citizenry was discouraged from asking were apparently known only to so-called experts. They weren’t.
Trust me, bro
What equivalent is there to “trust words” when exercising a prudent amount of skepticism while also desiring to discern truth from falsehood or reality from fantasy? Somehow, a person with whom I wasn’t raised doesn’t inspire confidence when encouraging me, “Trust me, bro.”
Perhaps you’ve come to this post for answers. Maybe you thought I’d have some sagely wisdom about an evidence-based psychotherapeutic method for trusting people. I don’t.
In actuality, I’m as lost as you likely are when it comes to this matter. After all, I did begin this post describing how distrustful I’ve been since childhood, so don’t rely on me to function from much more than an ignorance-informed perspective.
Rather than instructing anyone on matters related to trust, I invite people to question everything—and yes, I’m included in “everything.” Too often, I observe people simply going along with presented narratives and failing to think critically about what they’re told.
Increasingly, I’ve heard members of the government declaring that “domestic terrorism” is on the rise. One questions the correlation of an influx of alleged terrorists conveniently coinciding with a perceived end to the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT).
After all, it isn’t as though the U.S. war machine has a habit of reducing defense funds after a campaign has ended. One imagines a new, scarier threat is needed in order to keep the drums of chaos pounding while further proposed human rights violations are executed.
Who are these terrorists for which our government is preparing? To those who recall the echo of war drums from GWOT, is there perhaps a terrorist hiding under every rock or just around every corner? According to one source:
[W]hile the FBI’s [Federal Bureau of Investigation] open domestic terrorism investigations have more than quadrupled to 9,049 since 2013, the list of “FBI-Designated Significant Domestic Terrorism Incidents” appended to the 2021 report contains only 85 examples of cases in the period 2015-2019, of which almost 90 percent involve militias, sovereign citizens and other anti-government groups, and attacks motivated by racial animus. Only seven are tagged as “Animal Rights/Environmental Extremism.”
Trust me, bro—there are terrorists ready to pounce on you. They haven’t quite gotten to you yet. You can’t see them. However, the government has you covered. Wait, I thought the pandemic was over. Where’ve I heard this narrative before?
Trust the narrative
I recently watched the drama series Waco: The Aftermath which addressed fallout from the Waco siege. Throughout the show, the Department of Justice and other governmental entities were depicted as dubious, incompetent, and unworthy of trust.
Given the outcome of the siege, in consideration of my perspective as former military police, I can’t honestly say I disagree with the broad brush strokes with which government and other law enforcement officials were painted. Nonetheless, something struck me as peculiar.
Prior to the end credits, the series presented the following textual message:
“Patriot” militias and acts of political violence have continued to grow in America.
In 2020, the Southern Poverty Law Center [SPLC] reported that the number of active anti-government “Patriot” groups had reached its highest level in more than two decades, with 576 such groups operating in the United States – a 50% increase since 2016.
“Domestic terrorism and hate crimes are among the most urgent threats to American society.” – Attorney General Merrick Garland, April 2021
One supposes the average citizen who presumably trusts handfed messages from perceivably authoritative sources may accept the show’s assertions as having nominal value. I’m not the imagined average citizen and I question claims presented in the series.
First, according to the National Defense Act of 1916, “The term ‘militia of the United States’ was defined to comprehend ‘all able-bodied male citizens of the United States and all other able-bodied males who have . . . declared their intention to become citizens of the United States,’ between the ages of eighteen and forty-five.”
Use of scare quotes (i.e, “Patriot”) to deride seemingly most of the able-bodied male population in the U.S. is senseless. As well, the bold claim pertaining to “acts of political violence” isn’t a claim with which the series substantiates with much more than an appeal to emotion.
Second, credibility of the SPLC is questionable. Per one accusation pertaining to the organization, “It’s a bully who calls names and spreads lies rather than thoroughly reading a brief’s legal arguments or challenging the rationale underlying a policy proposal.”
A separate accusation claims, “If you go to their website and see who they have on their “hate list” you can see a pattern of including those who do not agree with their liberal political agenda.” Who knows if either of these accusations is trustworthy?
A cursory glance of the SPLC’s description of the militia movement states that “the militia movement is primarily driven by fear of gun confiscation, globalization and antigovernment conspiracy theories; though these are perennial fears, the urgency to organize outside legitimate channels increases during liberal administrations.”
One surmises that pro-Constitution groups are therefore considered part of this so-called movement. If this assumption is correct, it’s comprehendible how an entity may speculate about how “a 50% increase since 2016” of pro-U.S. organizations may occur.
Third, I was unable to locate citation for the alleged Merrick Garland quote. Granting the notion that it was stated, “Domestic terrorism and hate crimes are among the most urgent threats” to U.S. society, the proclamation is little more than a non sequitur.
Waco: The Aftermath illustrates an image of white nationalist or supremacist hatred. The SPLC’s website lists many such examples on its hate map. To an uncritical and trusting audience, one may assume that white-based domestic terrorism and hate crimes are on the rise.
Per the FBI, “In 2020, the FBI and DHS [Department of Homeland Security] assessed RMVEs [racially or ethnically motivated violent extremism] advocating the superiority of the white race and anti-authority or anti-government violent extremists, specifically militia violent extremists, presented most lethal threat categories.”
Still, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that of hate crimes, “more than half (53%) of hate crime victimizations were against whites,” from 2004 to 2015. Are these white supremacists ramping up their attacks on other white citizens?
Finally, reported statistical data or offered quotes within a web series have little value when potentially being misrepresented using emotional appeals. Employing a rational perspective regarding the information highlights the utility for a dose of discerning skepticism.
As a child, there were many things about which I knew so little. Together with my sisters, a system of useful assessment was established in order to safeguard credibility—“trust words.”
Entering into adulthood, the erosion of trust from a number of entities I encountered reinforced my natural distrust. A practical pattern of disbelieving allowed me to critically evaluate presented narratives, which continues to serve me well.
Recently, further observation of consistently changing narratives has led me to question the notion that domestic terrorism is supposedly an urgent threat to U.S. citizens. Unfortunately, there is no “trust words” method of determining whether or not such a claim is accurate.
Though the reader may remain bewildered by beliefs about what I’ve presented herein, I invite you not to disturb yourself with unhelpful assumptions. The fact of the matter is that no one person has full control or influence over these issues.
If you grant this premise, what then can we do? Even though we may not like or love that it appears as though the drums of war are banging within our borders, can we tolerate discomfort associated with this possibility?
If your response is, “Well, hell no! I must do something about it, because I can’t stand the direction in which this country’s headed,” I invite you to consider that it isn’t the action that leads to the consequence of our emotions or behavior. The sound of drums in the distance doesn’t cause your anger.
Rather, it is your irrational belief about the action which leads to a consequence. You hear drumbeats and because you’ve convinced yourself that you have more power than you do, while simultaneously deluding yourself by believing you’re helpless, you’ve upset yourself.
These are issues with which I assist people so that they may disturb themselves less, increase their level of functioning, and improve the quality of their lives. This is challenging work that is often accompanied by discomfort.
However, by pushing through the unpleasantry of disputing unproductive beliefs, you may be able to dance to rhythmic beats of pounding drums instead of needlessly becoming the target of investigation by benevolent glowies.
Together, we can’t change the word—trust words. Still, I may be able to help you change yourself. Are you prepared to get better?
If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.
As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.
At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!
Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW
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