We generally trust that our intimate partners, friends and colleagues will respect us enough to give us honest answers when we really need them. We don’t have comparable trust when the intimacy is less, which makes it hard to get straight answers from someone we feel drifting away. Our questions often get more urgent and their answers get more iffy.
Can I trust you?
Why don’t you love me any more?
Why don’t you listen to me any more?
Why don’t you care any more?
Are you lying to me?
Why are you leaving me?
We ask such urgent questions of someone who seems halfway out the door. We seek an honest response from someone we no longer trust to care enough to be honest. Such questions represent what I’ll call the Tonto Paradox, based on this classic joke:
Lone Ranger: Tonto we’re surrounded by Indians. What should we do?
Tonto: What do you mean “we” Kemosabe?
The Tonto Paradox is simply the high-stakes personal equivalent of the oldest paradox in the book. The liar’s paradox (circa 600 BCE): the statement “I am lying" which is false if its true and true if its false. With the Tonto Paradox trustworthiness boils down to a doubt about whether we’re a “we.” In other words:
“If we’re in this together, I can trust you to be honest about whether we’re in this together. But if we’re not in this together, I can’t trust you to be honest about whether we’re in this together.”