I wouldn't call myself a gullible person. I am fairly sceptical about a huge number of issues - religion, politics, and 'expert' opinions, to name a few. (Also astrology, psychic powers, fad diets, and celebrity endorsements... I could go on, but we'd be here for hours.) I am also fairly astute at reading people; I think that's one of the qualities one needs as a writer.
Having said that, however, I can be ridiculously trusting. And being trusting does not equate to being gullible, because being gullible is involuntary, whereas trusting is volitional. We make a decision to trust another person, and this trust may be warranted, or it may not.
My first instinct in the past has been to trust people until given reason not to. My one-time therapist once told me that I was an eternal optimist, and that I liked to see the best in human nature. My own suspicion is that it had something to do with anxiety; I wanted to believe that people were trustworthy and good, because it was too upsetting and confronting to believe otherwise.
However, a long time has passed since that particular conversation. I am 45 now, and I know better. Some people are worthy of trust, and some absolutely are not. Trust has to be earned, not bestowed as a right.
I've been reading the 'Liespotting' by Pamela Meyer, after having stumbled upon her TED talk on the same subject. Meyer has devoted years to researching how to lies, and I'm finding her book absolutely fascinating.
One point she raises in her talk, and quite early in the book, is the nature of co-operation.
No-one can lie to you without your approval. the liar and the recipient participate in a fabric of mythmaking together. A lie does not have power by its utterance - its power lies in someone agreeing to believe the lie.
Now, I don't believe that statement is true all of the time (see? I told you I was sceptical about expert opinions). There are some people who are so brilliant at deception that even their partners can't pick the lies. The guy who loses his job and hides it for a year, or the compulsive gambler who covers his debts until the point of bankruptcy.
But for most of us, I think, her point is absolutely valid. When I look back at the times I've been lied to - either in relationships ("Yes, I am totally free to date") or in work ("The piece is great, it's just not right for us") or by salespeople ("That top looks amazing on you!") - I have totally chosen to believe the lie. I have chosen to believe the lie because that's what I wanted to hear. I wanted the person to be free to date. I wanted to believe that my article was brilliant. And I wanted to believe that the top looked amazing, despite my strong suspicion that it was ill fitting and the wrong colour.
We choose to believe a lot of the lies that we are told. We choose to believe them because we don't want to believe otherwise, because we want everything to be nice and happy in our world. But this is an important revelation, because it gives us so much more power. When we are aware of our own willingness to be coercive with deception, we can make sure we are seeing the truth and not what we want to see. And in this way, with more clarity, we can take more control over our relationships and our lives.
I still believe in trust, and there are several people in my life I trust implicitly with my love, my secrets, my children, my life. But I know now that trust has to be earned, not offered, and that I am responsible for making that call.