Trust, Basic Trust, Self-confidence, and trust in God

Interview with Elisabeth Lukas, PhD, by Stephan Baier (Grandios Magazine, Regensburg, February, 2022). Translated by Maria Marshall, PhD

  • How does the capacity to trust arise and grow?
  • In what ways does parenting affect trust?
  • Can one do well without a basic trust in life’s meaningfulness and a positive mage of the world?

These are the topics of the following interview that was conducted with Dr. Lukas by Stephan Baier at the GRANDIOS Magazine Studios in February 2022.

SB: Trust; what is this concept? The capacity to trust; are we born with it, or do we have to gradually learn it? And finally, is trust like a talent that one can be endowed with more of, or less with, or is it a decision to trust or not to trust. These are the topics that we are going to discuss with Dr. Elisabeth Lukas. Dr. Lukas is one of the most well-known psychotherapists in the German speaking world, and most certainly, the most prominent student of Dr. Viktor Frankl. Viktor Frankl was the father of logotherapy, also known as The Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy.

Dear Dr. Lukas, prior to this interview, you gifted me with this booklet (“Wolken vor der Sonne?” Lukas, 2021), that I would like to cite from, since I found something very interesting here that brings us right to our topic: You write that trusting people live not only longer lives, but they get along more harmoniously with others, and they can tolerate loneliness better than others. Why is this so?

EL: Yes, well, trusting people are of course more sympathetic because when it comes to communication and living together, one gets along easier with someone who is trusting than with someone who is skeptical, and when one meets others with a spark of trust, it is easier to get along right away then if one is met with suspicion. This trust that one grants in advance to the other, perhaps more than what they deserve, motivates the other to do something good in return, not to shatter the expectation. In this way one locks the other in trust that presupposes and expects that something good will happen. Of course, one sometimes pays a price for this, if one gives more trust than what was reasonable, one is going to be disappointed, but one needs to accept this. It is better to let oneself experience a bit of disappointment than to be stuck in a steady climate of skepticism and mistrust.

SL: But how do I become this trusting person?

EL: This question has to do with the basis of trust. You raised the question if one naturally has the tendency for trust, or one has to develop it? In principle, each newborn brings with them the capacity to trust, just as they take their first breath. Even babies are born with this innate tendency to expect help when they are helpless, and we know that human babies are more helpless than any baby animal. They are totally dependent on help. They have to trust that help will come. They only way they can signal if they need help is by crying and then help comes, maybe not right away, but it arrives. And this strengthens the experience that help comes when help is needed.

SL: But is there not a disappointment as well if the parent is not responsive? For example, if a mother responds late but does respond eventually, is it not a rhythmic change from disappointment to trust and from trust to disappointment, this rhythm of back and forth and back and forth between trust and disappointment?

EL: Human babies come into the world with a complex neural system that is incredibly adaptable. First, it makes the connection that help is on the way. That it comes. And learns to observe: Observe lights and shadows, observe movements. Also, to perceive those processes that are going to result in help. For example, they can hear the steps, or when spoken to. They learn to associate words with help. When they are spoken to, help will soon come, they will be comforted. When babies grasp the meaning of the events in the world around them through such associations, they can also wait. Here I would like to highlight a point that I think is important: Subjective sense of time. Subjective time is different from the objective amount of time that may have passed. Subjective perception of time changes in the course of life. For a younger person, the same time feels longer than for someone older. For a 10-year-old, a year is a very long time. For a 60-year-old, a year passes in a blink. For a baby, an hour seems an eternity. When they cry the whole night or days go by before anyone responds to their cries of help, then for the child that affects their trust.

SL: When we experience pain or suffering, time seems to pass much slower than other times.

EL: You are exactly right. For a small child or for baby with a long time of no help and discomfort seems a very long time.  Most parents know this and they stay up most of the night and watch their baby and are attentive to their needs. I do not mean to say by this that parents need to be always one hundred percent available and run as soon as their child begins to fuss, there must be some learning on the part of the child as well, of a bit of toleration and waiting for the parent to help. When one has a good communication than one feels integrated in the milieu where one feels safe and protected in the home, one feels at home, and one trusts that help will arrive when it is needed even if it may take for some time to arrive.

SL: The older a child is, the greater the disappointments can get when they understand that the world does not operate according to their wishes. One needs to take this disappointment seriously and learn from it, that the world is not always the way we wish it to be. How can trust grow, despite the disappointments that children and youth need to experience?

EL: A child develops. However, from the beginning, they bring with them a sense of basic trust. This is so deeply engraved in people in all cultures in people from all walks of life and through all concepts and images of God, that there must be behind something or someone that we can trust. I’d like to point out that the fairy tales also do not paint us an ideal world, there are elves, and witches, and dragons, and all sorts of things that occur in them. Yet, what the fairy tales show to us is a clear world. Clear, since there is good and bad. In the stories the good always wins. It always has the final say. People can be saved, changed, and, at the end, the good comes through. This is what reinforces and re-states the notion of basic trust in children. When they grow, they understand of course that the reality is not always like that, the good characters are not always good, the bad characters are not always bad, and between good and bad there are all these ways of in-between, but by that time children have the capacity to distinguish and decide. They can differentiate between their external reality and their inner feeling of trust and security. In the external world, there may be a lot of things that do not match, that do not work, but in their inner reality, there can be something there that wins, that remains. It is otherwise when children from a very early age are subjected to abuse, violence, and aggression, and have experienced grave disappointments, and, as a consequence, they see the world as a hostile and dark world in which the good can not be taken for granted. The negative experiences in this case can stifle a sense of trust that remains hidden inside.

SL: We talked about the positive case, when children feel protected and well taken care of, and parents in such families can also do certain things right and maybe certain things wrong. What can they do to keep trust alive? You gave us one tip, to tell their children stories to reinforce basic trust. What else would you suggest doing?

E.L.:  With the example of the fairy tales, I just wanted to illustrate how in the folk tradition there is already a sense of basic trust. In the early years what fosters trust in consistency. This means rules so that children have a routine, and they can tell what is going to happen next. They learn that now it is bath-time, then we are walking for a walk, now it is time to sleep. This works well for the elderly as well; they function better when they have a structure that they are familiar with. Flexibility comes in-between. In the milieu of such structure, children learn to differentiate that certain people have different traits, different behaviors, reactions, but when their own reference person, a person who they trust, act inconsistently, that upsets children. Children can tolerate and learn very well how people have some different ways o reacting or doing things. However, strong emotional outbursts by the same person, or inconsistencies, and inconsistent reactions manifested by their main caregiver are troubling for children. This happens for example if mothers are over-exerted, under extreme stress, or under the influence of drugs and alcohol, where they show instability, lability, and there are outburst of emotion or temper. When the main caregivers have a loss of self-control emotionally, that confuses children because they learn that they can not trust someone if they are friendly because it is not for sure that this friendliness will last and for how long. It makes children fearful and anxious and loose trust.

SL: Caregivers model trust to their children themselves?

EL: There are no perfect families, but we can say that the intact family is the place of the highest feeling of security on earth. The reason of it is that in other places, one is judged according to one’s abilities and contribution. For example, if I have good recommendations as a speaker, I am being sought after. But if I shy away from people and remain in seclusion, no one will think that I am a good speaker. This is not the same in the family. In the family, when it is intact, one feels valued. Regardless of one’s appearance, even if one is unproductive, one is valued for who one is, whether one is young or old, smart, or not so smart, in the family, one is valued because one is part of the family. I know that this is an ideal, but the family is the place of this ideal. What is wanted to express is that in the family, one is valued for one’s personhood and for one’s inherent value. When children experience this, they develop a sense of self-worth, that helps them to face whatever may come their way.

SL: Is this not inherent in every person to want to be loved and accepted for who they are?

EL: Yes, although in the family it is also important to consider the other part of the question. Everyone wants to be loved but one needs to offer love as well to the others. One wants to be understood, but does one understand the other?  It must be a two-way process.

SL: When a child does not experience that, then what happens? For most children, they know that they are loved, valued, and accepted. They know that their parent loves them even when they are corrected or scolded. What happens to those who never experience such validation or acceptance? What do they then feel that they can give to the other when they have received little, and how can they then think that the world is still a good place?

EL: This is a fundamental question you are speaking about. One discusses this is psychotherapy a lot, and we need to reach back to one’s view of the human person. The view of the human person influences how one sees oneself and others. It is not true that a person is a “Tabula Rasa” and that everything that a person becomes is because of what their caregiver has written on this board. This is simply not the case. People come even genetically with a lot of influences; we know this thanks to modern research. One brings even psychological tendencies, both positives and negatives, strengths and weaknesses. On top of that one has the influences of the environment, the influence if the parents, influence of media, etc. At any rate, people are not merely the product of their genetic inheritance and the impact of their environment. Frankl always said, there is a third given, and this is the spirit of the person, which is an entire novum. Each person is unique, a new creation.

SL: And here lies our potential, right?

EL: Yes, here lies our potential in spirit, and thus a potential for molding and creating oneself. This is what I wish to emphasize. From the beginning, a young person reacts to their environment and to their circumstances in the way that they develop themselves and use their talents for self-discipline, and for self-development to bring the best out of what a person is capable of becoming. A person can take a stand toward their environment when they give their “yes,” or “no” or when they resist something. In other words, there is a capacity that one has for resistance. This is the case when one may be coming from a very miserable background and one had a misfortune of accumulating negative life experiences, this capacity to develop oneself and change oneself is still there and can be developed.  When one distances oneself from such negative influences, quite conscientiously decides to distance oneself from repeating what was mistaken, when one can distance oneself, and one decides “What I do not want” and “This is what I do not want to repeat” that is when Frankl speaks of the defiant power of the human spirit. “I will do it better, and I will do it differently.”

SL: This is a different message, right? If one came to you in psychotherapy and said to you, “I have been totally ruined in my childhood, and for that reason I am unable to go on with my life,” is it that you would have good news for them?

EL: It is a hypothesis that one is “ruined” and comes from being outspoken, but the spiritual person is never “ruined.” They have within themselves the capacity to make everything renewed and different. Also, from the experience of suffering one can develop an advantage of warning. “One knows what not to want, what will not work, and to be even stronger and determined to achieve it. In other words, the new generation does not need to repeat the mistakes of the old generation. They can grow through it and build something new and better. This old sadness may be there and come back at times, but one also has the defiant power of the human spirit through which it is possible to overcome the past and to build something new. 

SL: You were talking about basic trust that each person is born with. This can not be destroyed but it can be disturbed. So then if a person seeks your advice who trust has been shaken, what is your advice? How could one correct this?

EL: One question is how I could help someone, as you say, “correct this.” The other question is, how can one help oneself? Two different questions. How would I help a child, for example, shall we start with that?

SL: Yes.

EL: Children are by nature incredibly robust. Nature built them incredibly strong. When they come into contact with a person who has a positive influence of them, they can easily relax and open up. What one can offer, on the one hand, is caring conversations in which one points out connections. For example, a parent is under extreme stress, or ill. By this, what I mean to say, not to gloss over but to speak frankly and honestly, so they can process what happened. To illustrate connections and links, so that they can understand is helpful. When we understand things, we can process them better and is such way one fosters insight that is age appropriate and possible. The second point I wish the emphasize is the importance of building on children’s strengths. You see, children are capable of becoming very enthusiastic and when one notices and encourages their strengths and talents in the areas it may be in, technical, musical, sports, cooking, dance, arts and crafts, then these activities let them remain enthusiastic while their wounds are healing. They discover that they are good for something, they are good at something, and enjoy their activities, which reinforces the view that there are nice things in the world, not only the bad they experienced. Then they go on with life and grow with more elasticity and this is not an exaggeration, but a very helpful bandage for the wounds to grow with.

SL: For us to go on with our tasks, we need to believe that the world is good place, that for me personally, the world is good place, for me it is meaningful, that there is a meaning to discover. Do we need such a sentiment to be able to keep on living?

EL: I will start with the first part of your question, “do we need to know that the world is a good place” I would like to question this. Our world is not a very good place. It has good sides and bad sides. It is not about if the good in the world needs to outweigh the bad in the world. There is a lot of suffering it the world. There is a lot of grief. Frankl spoke about the tragic triad of grief, death, and pain. We all have sorrows, we all make mistakes, and we will die. Realistically, about whether the world is a good place, I do not know. About the other part of your question, if being has meaning, that is a different question. This has to do with a very deep search in people, a wish to find meaning in everything that there is. This is a quite deep search engraved in the human soul. The question is there is a last or ultimate meaning, despite all the grief and suffering. Basic trust is not at all the belief that at the end, everything will turn out fine. Basic trust is the conviction that there is a higher dimension, beyond our dimension, in which even our suffering can have meaning. It is the question if all the uncertainty of our life can culminate in a final harmony, even if we may not be able to grasp the individual pieces. Dr. Frankl, who was a survivor of the holocaust during the Second World War, explained that the prisoners walked to the gas chambers with their heads held high and a prayer on their lips. The prisoners did not think that God will appear and intervene and save them from the gas chambers. They knew that God will not intervene to stop this great injustice, but they entered the gas chambers with a prayer on their lips. This is basic trust. It remains a mystery why there is so much misery in the world and suffering. Frankl said we need to bow in front of this mystery. And we need to trust that in this higher dimension everything retains its meaning.

SL: Do you think it is easier for religious people to accept that there is such dimension? The reality of God in a higher dimension would be perhaps easier to grasp for someone who is religious.

EL: Frankl offered a very beautiful metaphor to illustrate this. Imagine a scale with two arms, an antique scale, with two wide arms. He said, take one side where one can place the idea that the whole entire reality is a nuisance with no meaning. Everything will be lost, the planets will disappear, the suns will get sucked into a dark hole, everything is nothing and leads to nothing. This is on one side of the scale. One the other side of the scale is the conviction that everything has meaning, beyond even human comprehension. This entails the belief that the reality of creation is more that what is available to us and that the whole of creation expresses the will of God. And Frankl said, with logic and reason one cannot decide for one side or for the other. The two sides weigh the same.

SL: Life would be nicer, if this side weighed more.

EL: Well, yes, but Frankl said that the only way to make one side weight more than the other is to place one’s entire existence on one side or the other. This side will, for this person, personally weigh more than the other. There are simply no statistics that will help with the decision. There are statistics of other kind, however. Two of them can be found in my book. One of them is by Stephen Covey who wrote a bestseller that you may be well familiar with, on the habits of highly effective people. These people who do very well in life, Covey found in his research, believe that there is such an ultimate meaning. They affirm the meaningfulness of life. The other research is by Leonard Sargon who followed a large group of people with longevity and found that many factors played a role, and among genetics and lifestyle, he established that a personal outlook on life also played a role. People who lived very long lives confirmed the meaningfulness of life. It appears that it is more helpful to believe that life is meaningful than it is to think that it offers no meaning, or nihilism.

SL: Can we establish then that those people who see a general meaning in life are more likely to experience their own lives as meaningful?

EL: When everything has meaning than of course every small part must have a meaning. Yes.

SL: When someone opts for the other arm of the scale, how do you help them? When everything seems absurd? Where does one reach then? One sinks into depression, or anxieties, or sadness?

EL: We need to know that everyone needs to make a decision for themselves. We can bring arguments, illustrations, and examples, but at the end the decision lies with every person. But every person can have time when they wrestle with the question. At these times it is very helpful what has been recognised in psychotherapy, a method, or the knowledge of the possibility of taking a “leap of faith.” How can one take a leap of faith? One has the capacity for self-distancing. What do we mean by self-distancing? One can step away from oneself and one can observe oneself from a distance in the present or in the past. One can also place oneself into the future and observe oneself there. One can look at oneself from the position that one is in right now and look in the future; my very best version of myself, for example in the future, and see what that would look like, and step by step advance towards that image that one wishes to become. This is the concept of the “leap of faith” [to advance toward something that is chosen and desirable out of one’s free will, to make that a reality when it is yet only in the future as an ideal].

For example, a person addicted to alcohol. How can she step out of tis habit? She must imagine, “One day, I will be sober, and I will stop drinking.” One can give help, but ultimately, people need to do it by themselves. This “one day” they need to live it as if they were already free. But it is not in the reality. They can set it into the reality step by step. The body is still dependent on alcohol but the “one day” can be already alcohol free. Maybe a day, maybe a week, maybe a month, maybe a year. One day, this can become reality. Or an overly anxious person. How can they break the disturbance? One can help them. But again, there is a point at which they need to do it themselves. They need to go into the depth of the deep of the anxiety and face it. Entering the situation and the moment one dares to face anxiety and realizes that one has strength and freedom that one did not know existed before. He or she may go with trembling knees, and perhaps the second time will be a bit easier than it was the first, and then one can elaborate it in the context of a story such as entering the lion’s den to find out that the “roaring lion” was a in fact a “pussy cat.” The courageous facing of anxiety allows this leap of faith. When I come back to your question about how one can help someone who is experiencing a lack of trust to re-gain that trust, we need to establish that there is nothing that one can do, because one can not force oneself to trust, one can only advise or challenge oneself to live as if one had trust. One leaps into a life of trust and lets oneself be surprised.

I often work with women who have difficulty trusting men because they had a bad experience in a relationship. They may have felt take advantage of, betrayed, used, you name it. Now they have a new man in their lives, and they do not trust this friend. They tell me they have pictures from the previous relationship come to their mind, they fear being taken advantage of, etc. So, I tell them, “But your new friend is of course entirely not guilty of your previous experiences.” The women conclude it themselves that “He does not deserve to be mistrusted,” and “I deserve to get to know a nicer side of life.” At this point then I advise them to take a leap of faith and proceed by being open to the other person with this self who is still experiencing suffering because of the repeating images in the mind, but the “I who I want to be, and can be” in the future. This often works. If there are no further disappointments, the relationship succeeds.

SL: Trust for adults it is a decision-making process then. An adult can decide in their freedom to want to trust and hold fast to this decision. Is this so?

EL: No. To want to trust is not the right word. But to decide to trust is the right word. Decision and trust belong together. This is a pair. When you decide, you must trust. When you trust, you must reach a decision. That is, you would not have to trust if you were always sure that something will work out fine. Thus, always in the uncertainty is that we need to have trust, and in the uncertainty the possibility of a decision is there. When you are applying for a job, you do not know yet if everything will work out fine; when you start a relationship and choose a partner, you do not know if everything will work out fine, and the relationship will be viable. At each point, you need to make a step into the uncertainty, and make a risk and a leap of faith; this is what is basic trust. Trust and decision work together just like uncertainty and taking a risk do. People who lack trust have a hard time deciding. Professor Frankl used a very beautiful expression about trust when he spoke to his American students: One has to act “half sure but who-hearted.” Maybe not sure, but with full trust.

About the subject of will, I like to mention that there are phenomena that cannot be intended. They can not be brought about by will. For example, one cannot intend to intend, one cannot “will” to love; one either loves or not. One cannot want to believe. One can not want to trust. These phenomena have prerequisites, from which they flow. For example, something valuable, brings forth valuing. Something loveable, brings forth to love it. Something believable brings it forth belief. Something trustworthy brings forth trust.  So, will is intended toward these prerequisites. This is what we can intend for, to want. We can look for something valuable in the world; something loveable; something credible; something trustworthy. This is what we can want to intend for. This is what we can “will.” We can look in the world to find them; we can seek them out. We can search and find. Whoever searches, finds.

There are a lot of things that are worthwhile in the world. When I find this what is worthwhile, beautiful, and trustworthy, it will automatically elicit my will, and elicit my trust.

SL: How is it with self-esteem?

EL: This is an exciting topic in psychotherapy. Psychotherapy has to do with a lot of people who suffer from their confidence being shaken. Self-confidence has to do with the evaluation of one’s own inner resources. Self-esteem can be too low or over-inflated and neither of these has a good outcome. Either one’s level of performance will be low because of low self-confidence, and one does not develop one’s potentials as much as one could, or one over-estimated one’s capacities and one needs to touch ground at some point. However, self-confidence has another aspect that I would like to address. When one accomplishes what one committed oneself to do, this correlates highly with inner satisfaction and well being. One can plan a lot and accomplish little of those plans. Or one can break one’s promises, change one’s decisions, sabotage oneself from accomplishing the tasks that one set out for oneself, and this will have a negative impact on self-confidence. Imagine the example that one orders some work being done and the handyman says he will be there at such and such time on such and such day. You wait the whole day, but they do not show up. You phone them, agree on a new date and time. The time, comes, and they do not show up, but give you all sorts of excuses. The following time, when they do not show up, you will not take any of the excuses but really get mad at them. This is how people who sabotage themselves or let themselves down feel about themselves. When people sabotage their own plans, the feeling is a sense of failure, or impotence, “I can’t do it,” “I can’t do well anything.” So, in therapy how this plays out is not that we have to persuade people who do not trust themselves to make a leap of faith and convince themselves to accomplish small tasks that they can feel good about. Rather, often we have to advise them to request from themselves as little as possible, and as less demanding as possible, but that little that they then really make a commitment to fulfill, regardless of their feelings, as much as possible, so they can develop a healthy stand.  

SL: For healthy self-confidence we have to have a realistic view of ourselves and know what we can do and what we are not so good at, right? For example, if I think that I am a great cook, but experience shows otherwise, I need to adjust the view of my abilities.   

EL: Yes, for those who over-value themselves, there can be a series of disappointments, and sometimes they need to learn the hard way. The question is how one can learn from experience and adapt self-experience. For example, it could be a learning process for someone who thought they were a great cook but found out that they are not such a great cook after all, to start with something small, a salad and a simple menu that they can pull off with no difficulty. So, it is important that one does not give up and says, “I can not cook at all,” but make it little by little, step by step, try out this and try out that, and end with the conclusion that “Well, not so bad after all.”  I think that the more one can learn from one’s experience about the difference between one’s self-confidence and the requirement of situations, the more one can use this knowledge to one’s advantage. In this sense, even negative experiences can be helpful because they can lead to development and growth.

SL: Do we need to be able to trust ourselves to be able to trust others?

EL: You pose very good questions.

SL: Do I need to have a firm anchor in myself to trust others?

EL: Well, maybe not if you take a leap of faith.

We can not say that only those people who have been loved can love. Maybe one is still able to give a positive attempt and make an effort to be positive towards others and, as a reward, receive self-confirmation. To come out of the difficulty does not require convenient circumstances. But to get back to your question, do we need to trust ourselves to trust others? That is a very good question. 

I have spent thousands of hours in therapy with patients and I noticed that the pictures that they formed had something in common. Those who had a more positive self-image, had more likely a more positive relationship with others and a more positive relationship with God. Those who had a negative self-image tended to have more unfavorable interpersonal relationships and an image of God as unforgiving and punishing. So, I could conceptualize it in this way: Imagine that in the course of the life of a person one could unroll a transparent film that is lighter or darker in color. All the experiences in life are projected onto this transparent film. The difficult experiences that get projected to a lighter part of this transparent film can still retain their sparkle. While even nice experiences that are projected onto a dark part of this film, loose from their sparkle somehow.

A man who takes a higher position and projects everything onto a dark film, will think of the downside of the new job: the mishandling, the rivalry, the incompetence, etc. But a man who loses his job, but this experience falls onto a bright film, that man may look at this experience as a good thing: “I will find a better job.” So, it has to do with this “the glass is half-full or half-empty mentality.” This is the background onto which the experience is projected that can differ and determines how it will be interpreted. So, self-confidence, confidence in others and in God can fall on a dark film or a bright film. This is what makes the difference.

SL: Very interesting. This far we have only talked about the positive side of trust. Now I would like to bring up its opposite side, naivity. There is an expression that goes with it, we say someone is “gullible.” Are some people gullible because they trust too easily and too much, and they fall for swindlers and robbers and you name it. How can gullibility be avoided and trust somehow trained?

EL: Even in the fairy tales there is a warning about not to trust everyone. Not to trust evil. But I think that today being overly trusting is not a virtue anymore. The internet is full of deceiving advertisement, the news full of fake news. One needs to learn caution and measure one’s trust. Whom to trust and not to trust, which was you question, and how to prepare for making good decisions, has to do with critical thinking. One needs to form opinions and informed choices based on credible sources. Such choices can be made in conversations, observing different options, perspectives, which is possible in democratic countries. Even in democratic systems there is one challenge with finding space and time to calmly consider options and alternatives. This happens when parents in a family are very stressed than perhaps there is little time for such earnest discussions of different sources and information. Honest discussions with others have great advantages.  For example, it has been shown that is schools, violence could be reduced through the introduction of a course on rhetoric. It is important to be able to express oneself and put into words one’s feelings; what one hopes for or what one is bothered by. Round-table discussions in politics can also lead to de-escalation. If one can express one’s inner self better, one gains trustworthiness because of the word. Words can be used for lying as well. One can see if one’s words are consistent with one’s actions and vice versa.

SL: Can we apply this in the society about people’s trust in institutions? It has been reported in sociological studies that the trust in major institutions such as the church, government institutions and agencies has dramatically decreased. Do you find this dangerous?

EL: I find this a pity. “Errare humanum est.” When one is human, one makes mistakes. As long as the responsible individuals are making an effort to correct the mistakes that have led to the decrease of trust, I think that is a good sign. I think in most instances there is a willingness to look critically at making good decisions. The understanding of a problem and capacity to solve it go together. Sometimes the attempt to solve certain problems can bring new problems that were not there before. For example, a new road can pose some inconvenience to the habitants. One arrives to the next problem. So, it is not that politicians, or church persons can not do anything at all well, rather they cannot do everything always well. I think it is these instances that need to be corrected because things have many perspectives. In addition, no one can have the capacity to foresee the future. Sometimes, in hindsight is easy to see and to make a judgement, but in foresight it is hard to always see the full consequences. When protesting, one should consider these facts and try not to just negate people in the position of power.

SL: Who I trust and whom I trust, is it then a personal decision?

EL: One can trust institutions, but not to forget that they are led by individuals. Certain individuals are corrupt.  Certain individuals are untrustworthy. To make generalisations and to say “all” politicians, or all theologians, etc. is not helpful because it does not correspond to the truth. One can seek out individuals and examine their credibility on the basis of what they say and what they do. I think that it is all right to let oneself get disappointed at times. We also may have at some point let someone down. It is not always that we may have kept the confidence that was invested in us. Wittingly or unwittingly, there are so many misunderstandings that can happen. It is better to look at individual cases because out of these individuals is that the system is made of. The individual influences the system and the institution is expressed in society that influences the institution.

SL: For the final question: Whom or what do you personally trust?

EL: I think that I am fortunate that my chosen film is bright. Therefore, my self-image, and my image of God, carry a rather bright tone. I have also no fear of disappointments. I think I can deal with them well because I am mild on people. In my profession I worked with thousands of people, and I have seen that we can all have weaknesses. A very nice saying comes to my mind, it was said by an author, whose name I now fail to recall, but it goes like this: We are all angels with one wing. One wing that represents all the good and the beautiful we can do. What makes us grand. We have another wing that is just a small stump, that is not well formed. There is something wrong with it. And so, the author continued, if the angels once decided that they embraced each other, then they could have two wings and they could fly. This is what I trust in: that if we embrace each other, and we are not too hard on each other, and we understand that the other also has a wing that is not perfect and has weaknesses, but if we hold on to each other, we have two healthy and strong wings, and, together, we can fly.

SL: Let’s keep flying together. Thank you very much!

“We are each of us angels with one wing, and we can only fly by embracing one another” (Luciano de Crescenzo, Italian writer 1928-2019).

Elisabeth Lukas, PhD, with Stephan Baier (2022)