‘Trust, but Verify’

The difference between doubt and paranoia and how to see opportunity to build relationships when you’ve made an unfortunate discovery.

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‘Trust but verify’ is a translation based on a Russian proverb (or cliche) with no reliable date of origin. It was frequently repeated during the nuclear disarmament days of Reagan.

In my career I frequently encounter dishonesty.
Typically, my profession brings people to me on one of their worst days and into a situation which will unexpectedly cost them money. When put in this unfortunate place many people, who might very well be decent and humble ordinarily, turn to dishonesty in an attempt to lessen the impact of this unfortunate life event.

Now in my industry, and likely in any other industry, it is frowned upon to call a customer a liar – as you could imagine. Instead we must use whatever tools at our disposal, frequently intellect and experience alone, to find evidence to disprove a dishonest claim. We refer to it as ‘trust but verify’. We give the benefit of the doubt and humor the idea of an unlikely possibility until we can rationally come to the truth.


I’ll give you an example.
Your mechanic tells you that your car needs a new wheel. It has a crack somewhere you can’t see and to pass inspection needs to be replaced.
You tell him to go ahead and arrive later on to pick up your car. The wheel he said he replaced looks shiny, but seems to have the same familiar scratches you remember.

Now, to ‘trust but verify’ would mean that you have a doubt or concern. The wheel looks washed, but not that it’s a different wheel. So you ask to see the original one – you want to see where the crack was.

He may pull out you old cracked wheel and simply show you what the issue was. He could then explain that in order to save you some money, he put on a used wheel which is why there are still scratches, but it will now be safe and pass inspection. In that case, he was completely honest and was looking out for you the entire time. Or in the opposite scenario, it maybe the same wheel and he was looking to get paid for work that was never done. To ‘trust but verify’ means that you accept it is possible, but want assurance that the right thing is being done.

I’ve seen this applied in other avenues of life.

Let’s say you have a son who is a great student and works part time at the grocery store.
One day you decide you need ice cream and go to his grocery store – it’s out of the way, but you could also check in since you know he is working.
You get there and his car isn’t in the parking lot, he isn’t at a register, and when you ask the manager he says your son called out sick.

So, because of your hunger for ice cream and willingness to check in, you have discovered a lie. Now, you can be that parent who waits in a corner of darkness for this unsuspecting son to come home and ask where they were and why they lied. Something you would have otherwise never have known and never addressed.

Obviously, no one wants to live in a constant state of paranoia – believing everyone is out to get them in some way.
In fact, applying this to everything in your life everyday would be both exhausting and compulsive.

Still, I am disappointed with surprise at the things you will unearth by exercising this even once in a rare while. With all my heart would I hope that bringing a hidden truth to light will help develop more open and honest understandings between families, friends and anyone who finds themselves at either end of dishonesty. Take these opportunities (hopefully few) to really lay out your hand and be clear on any issues or expectations.

Be true to yourself and those you love, it will be returned and it will appreciate every relationship in your life.


With love,

M.C. Grimm



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