Self-relinquishment: trust and overreliance

Let us now look at one form of self-relinquishment, of giving up our sense of our own self, and trading it for some sort of dependence: let's look at overreliance. What I mean by this is an attitude of relying on someone because we've done something for them and expect some reciprocation: waiting for others to repay favors, keep their promises, or merely treat us well as a consequence of some good judgment they've passed on us sometime past.
I call the excessive form I have in mind overreliance because naturally there is some reliance we must put into such situations: the game of give-and-take in social and business contexts that is based on this behavior pervades our lives, and there is nothing wrong with it, as long as everybody involved understands what happens, and where the limits are. Overreliance begins where we make it a habit to depend on others for central goals of our lives, for things that we take as important, things that have a personal significance for us — and where we consciously build on others' providing them for us. Then we start giving not for the sake of giving, but for the sake of receiving something in exchange: we start giving with an agenda in the background. And the badness of that sort of behavior again lies in that we weaken our own sense of self in the course of that change; by locating the source of success and happiness in the actions of others (however cleverly we think we've manipulated their motives for those actions, and however much we tell ourselves that this manipulation would be justified by the consequences, which are after all of supreme importance to us), we locate them somewhere else than where they should be located: in ourselves.
Overreliance does not just imply that you are constantly calculating what people owe you, you're on the flip side also checking with everything they do whether it counts as having paid you back already. This habit, however, prevents you from being grateful. Ungratefulness is a character fault; and as always, the reason why you should avoid character faults comes from your own best interest. It's better for you to be a grateful person than not being it, because being ungrateful weakens your character and thus puts you at a disadvantage in the long run. All badness of character damages the subject (the person who acts badly, thinks or feels badly) more than it damages its target. The target may suffer, but it suffers from something external, something it cannot control. The integral part, the character of the person who is the target, can never be damaged by suffering caused by externals. If that part is strong enough, it will be capable to deal with the suffering and display strength of character even within that suffering. (If it's not strong enough, then the problem lies with neglect of shaping a strong character rather than with the external influence. The external suffering thus would be at best an indicator for a weakness on the target's behalf, but not the real cause of it.)
Overreliance, then, is different from the normal reliance we trade in everyday life in that it goes further and deeper; it is also significantly different from trust. Trusting someone always means to take a risk. If it wasn't risky, there would be no value in trust. Let's look at this more carefully: what makes trust valuable, as compared to the overreliance I've defined above?
Taking a risk means to accept a possibility of loss (what you lose would be an external, such as money or convenience, property or reputation, even health or, in extreme cases, your life) and projecting into the other person the qualities of skillfulness, resourcefulness and courage, honesty and reliability needed to make sure, to the best of their ability, that you don't suffer that loss. (There is a sort of trust, a blind trust, which simply unthinkingly assumes trustworthiness and thus doesn't calculate the risk, but merely ignores it. That's not the sort of trust I'm talking about here.)
Trusting means that you still keep the responsibility. If something goes wrong, you cannot blame them, for it was you who trusted them, and whether they just failed or even betrayed you, there's something for you to at least take responsibility for, and learn from. You decide to trust, and you retain responsibility for that decision.
So in summary, one difference between trust and overreliance is that in trusting you remain responsible, and so you're in charge of your actions yourself; another one is in that you assume, or project, qualities of character in others whom you trust, instead of expecting a debt structure to work for you (which in general boils down to expecting social pressure to do the job for you, and in effect that's a mere manipulation of others); furthermore, when trusting someone you put an emphasis, in your actions and views, on the right sort of thing: on people's character instead of a fictional value calculation about externals (such as money or reputation). Not just do you highlight the right sort of value in others, you also express the right choice in your own behavior: you know what to treat as valuable and what as indifferent. This way you exhibit valuable behavior yourself. Take care.
Copyright © 2007-2012 by Leif Frenzel. All rights reserved.