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YARNLADY's avatar

What on earth does "Trust but verify" mean.

Asked by YARNLADY (39487 points ) June 13th, 2012

If you TRUST, doesn’t that automatically mean there is no need to verify?

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16 Answers

Nullo's avatar

One would assume that doubt (which drives verification) is the antithesis of trust.
I suspect that the original writer wasn’t thinking of trust so much as a more general openness to the idea. Give the benefit of the doubt, but then see to the doubt.
Might also be an exhortation to fake trust while you verify.

Wikipedia states that it’s a Russian proverb.
In a similar vein, the Russians give us, “Trust in God, but lock your car.”

I’ve long heard about how deeply cynical Russian culture is, but this list of proverbs really drives it home.

Coloma's avatar

It means trust in Allah but tie your Camel? lol

JLeslie's avatar

I guess it means our trust can sometimes be a mistake, and to protect ourseves we should verify. Trust is emotional, while verification would be proving the trust is warranted. Just guessing.

fremen_warrior's avatar

Perhaps it means, let people think you trust them, and double check behind their backs, just in case they might be trying to “pull a fast one” on you. Quite machiavelian in my opinion.

LuckyGuy's avatar

That sounds like the quality control procedures used by many manufacturing companies when they get parts from suppliers. Rather than inspect every part, they test one in 1000 and reject the lot if that one piece is bad.

josie's avatar

It’s a slogan. Politians use them all the time, betting that nobody will realize that slogans often don’t have any objective meaning. And they usually win the bet.

PhiNotPi's avatar

My best guess is that it means that you should always verify everything, even if you thought that it didn’t need verification.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

It’s a diplomatic term from the Cold War. Yeah, we’re going to trust what the Soviets tell us, but we’ll keep looking to make sure they’re telling us the truth.

Bill1939's avatar

The Russian proverb “trust but verify” became part of the American political lexicon when U.S.A. was negotiating a decrease in the number of missiles and antimissiles with U.S.S.R. “The term was a signature phrase adopted and made famous by U.S. president Ronald Reagan.” (see Wikipedia ).

thorninmud's avatar

The timing of the verification matters. If you entrust someone with a task, but then obsessively verify every step of the process, then that implies that there really wasn’t much trust involved. You seem to feel that there’s a big chance they’ll screw something up.

But if you entrust them with the task and let them finish their work without your hovering above them, this demonstrates that you have confidence that they will competently perform the task. This confidence doesn’t preclude verifying that the result is satisfactory, especially if you are the one ultimately responsible for the outcome.

After all, this is how we train our judgment to make it more accurate. You make a call on how trustworthy a person is, then see how that turns out. In the absence of any verification, there’s no feedback to allow you to learn and adjust your judgment.

cookieman's avatar

It’s like I’ve been teaching my daughter for years, “If I tell you the sky is blue, go outside and look”.

wundayatta's avatar

To me, “trust” does not mean someone will do what they say. It means I can predict how they will behave. I can trust someone who lies if I know they lie. I can trust someone who rarely follows through on what they say if I know they rarely do that.

A benign example of that is when you have friends who are never on time. You know they are never on time. You know that when they say they will be there at such and such a time, they will really be there half an hour to an hour later. You can trust them, because they are consistent or relatively consistent. You don’t trust their word, but you trust them.

As @Bill1939 said, this comes from arms reduction talks in the Reagan era. We needed to trust our negotiation partners, but we needed to make sure we could trust them. So we had to verify that they did what they said they did.

This is no different from any relationship. You take your friend’s word, but you also check to make sure they did what they said they did. You just do. Anything else would be foolish, as far as I’m concerned.

I’m sure most people do this with their spouses. You spouse says they will do something. Later on, you verify it. “Did you go to the store?” Or you look in the cabinet to see if the corn flakes are there. That’s verification. It is a benign thing. It does not mean you don’t take a person at their word. It means you understand human nature and you are just checking.

If someone has a problem with you checking on them, then they have trust issues. If you have a problem being checked up on, then I would say you are the one with trust issues. Trust only works if we verify that people are doing what they say they do. It only works if people make sure that your word is accurate. They need to know exactly how accurate it is. That way, they know exactly how to understand you, and that’s what you want.

It doesn’t matter if you are 100% accurate or 50% accurate. If they know how accurate you are, they can trust you. But if you expect them to take you for being 100% accurate without checking on you, then you are a con man, and if they take you up on that, they are a fool.

elbanditoroso's avatar

The way that Reagan used it, the statement was more like “trust but terrify”. Meaning that while you were negotiating with the russians and planning/hoping that they work towards peace in the world, you would also keep up the strength of your offensive and defensive weapons arsenal, just to ensure that there would be a good defense in case of backsliding.

It’s one thing to trust a spouse or a best friend; it is quite another to trust a former enemy and a geopolitical player that bears a history of duplicity.

gailcalled's avatar

It was jargon and easy to remember without having much meaning.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

Basically, trust but don’t give blind trust when there are red flags. Trust doesn’t mean put on blinders.

flo's avatar

I think it could be verify that there is no error.

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