The Daily Stoic for April 5th. “Trust, but verify”.

“First off, don’t let the force of the impression carry you away. Say to it, ‘hold up a bit and let me see who you are and where you are from—let me put you to the test’ . . .”
—EPICTETUS, DISCOURSES, 2.18.24

I have written before about how buying a house was one of the worse decisions of my life. What you probably don’t know is that the real estate agent that sold me my house was one of my best friends back then. Concretely, the drummer from the band I played with at the time.

It was a nice guy, and a nice friend. But…

He knew perfectly about the downturn in the economy. He knew that the bubble was about to explode. Some years later, I met him and he confessed that they already knew that the real estate business was about to crash.

Still, he told me it was the right time to buy the house. And I believed him, because I trusted him, and didn’t verify.

Trust, But Verify

Someone is sitting there, someone who doesn’t care
Someone who only stares

No one is on your side
You’ve got nowhere to hide
There’s no white horse to ride away
— “No more white horses”, from T2’s album It’ll All Work Out In Boomland (1970)

Of course, I cannot blame him. He got a good commission, and a lot of people would have done the same he did in the same situation. I am the only one to blame here, I was young and naïve. I believed in the basic goodness of mankind back them.

Even if you still do, it’s a good practice to follow today’s stoic meditation. Always verify. Friends, family… we sometimes grant them some benefits without ever wondering about it. After years of disappointments, I have learned that trust, respect and even love have to be earned, every day.

Does this sound overly pessimistic or nihilistic? Perhaps. But don’t get me wrong. I am an optimist. I still tend to trust in people, but now I verify, as the Russian proverb says.

This also applies, obviously, to our initial impressions. While I do believe we need to trust our gut, I also think that a reasonable level of skepticism and deliberation added to the mix can save us from a lot of trouble.

Our instincts have evolved to quickly allow us to evaluate situations, based on years of experience and ages of evolution. Unfortunately, our stereotypes and prejudices can sneak in, and blur our reasoning.

So before judging, before letting our feelings decide on the overall picture, allow yourself a moment of reflection. Breathe, and then make your decision.

Conclusion

Today’s Daily Stoic contains a wise word of wisdom in my opinion. Trust, but verify. Traditionally a believer in the basic human goodness, I have been disappointed way too many times. And yes, I do acknowledge that today’s advice may seem overly pessimistic or distrustful, but it’s experience who’s talking here.

Even thought I think we should trust our gut and feelings, I think we should also allow ourselves a moment to verify our impressions.

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