How is Trust Possible? The Issue of Power Dynamics

Developing a personal relationship, working on a political project or spending a few days in a hut together: no matter for what kind of cooperation, I need to know how much I can trust you.
(Yes, actually it is more realistic and safe to ask for ‚how much‘ or ‚in which respect‘ than assuming I can only either trust you under all circumstances or not at all, since the first would make me a lot more vulnerable.)
What does trust mean? Does it mean I have to believe you are a nice person? Does it mean I need prove you are not gonna physically hurt or rob me and not gonna lie to my face? Well, that might not be the worst start, but that’s not exactly the thing I have in mind.
All places, groups and relationships are influenced by power dynamics between the people involved. They might be constituted by gender, being (not) exposed to racism, income, certified level of education, age, physical ability, legal status, experience, reputation, the ability to express yourself (in a certain language) … but the list cannot be complete and the relevant factors differ for each situation.
Power dynamics cannot be abolished by ignoring or denying them.
So what does trust mean in this context?

First of all, trust means that I can experience you do not use your power against me.
This might include: not physically stopping me from leaving a place (even if it is ‚only a joke‘ – goes for all the following as well); not trying to force me to do something by putting psychological or moral pressure on me or talking down to me when I am not willing to agree – like pressuring me to join an event, make me drive the car or drink (more) alcohol; not using your position to make me look bad or talk disrespectful to/about me – e.g. laughing at my opinions or decisions, making fun of what I do, how I look or what I say; not ignoring what I say (especially if it includes a ‚NO‘ directed at you) and not belittling my contribution to the conversation, project, group process; not trying to control my decisions.

Secondly, trust in this sense means that I don‘t expect you to do these things: that I can imagine and believe you are not going to try that.
Either because experience so far showed you didn‘t, and/or due to what I know about the way you behave towards others. Which brings us to:

Thirdly, trust is based on my impression that you don not want to use your power against me.
This might be the key point so far: you not using power against me is a good sign, but might be part of bigger power dynamics as well. In other words: you might just have decided that acting nice and respectful towards me is more useful to your position; maybe because I have access to resources you are interested in or because I have reputation and social backup, which would get you in trouble if you‘d clash with me. So: you being nice to me for unknown reasons can still mean you‘re going to use your power against me if conditions change (e.g. when you don‘t need my resources any more or if I lose my reputation). On the other hand, the pure will to be ‚nice‘, ‚fair‘ or respectful doesn‘t do the trick completely. So we need to have a look at:

Fourthly: Trust is linked to the awareness about specific power dynamics.
These might mean being conscious that: you as a male* perceived person can easily drop your shirt at a concert while I as a female* perceived person must expect heavy boundary-crossing and repression for that; me as a person with citizen rights, I get in less trouble if caught by police on a demonstration than you without these rights; you as a person who focuses on a couple-relationship and me with lots of different social relationships, we have different ‚resources‘ for (emotional) support, social bonding, body/sexual contact etc.; me as a person with precarious ‚low-time‘ job, I have more time for political education and activism, but less income than you with a full-time job; by my looks I might be less accepted regarding the codes of leftist scenes than the younger, more adjusted antifa guy – but I might know a lot of people in key positions and have a longer history of experience there …
Expecting you to know some basics about the power bias between us can be basic to my trust in you – as far as I believe in your willingness and ability to deal with them respectfully.

So fifthly and as a (for now) last key point for building trust I can add the expectation of your willingness and ability for respectful communication about these issues.
This might include seemingly ‚little‘ things: asking me, if I am o.k. with the situation, if I like your proposal, if I have any other ideas how to do $whatever; talking before a project/trip or when getting into a relationship about what is important to me, what kind of boundaries need to be considered, what is basic to feel safe/o.k./fine; asking about how I felt at the occasion, if your behaviour earlier was alright for me, what my opinion on the topic is, what changes I would like in the way we treat each other.
Being open about your own experience, thoughts, needs, feelings regarding these things. Being open for taking criticism and express critique in a respectful way.

So this is what I consider basic to trust.
We can‘t just escape power dynamics – they are there and the only way to deal with them is to be honest and aware about them, as much as we are able to.
It’s gonna be quite some work and it’s not gonna find an end soon; but the effort will allow us to build relationships that are of a quality rarely found – trustworthy relationships that will carry us through personal and political or any other processes. The effort makes it possible for them to become successful, joyful, meaningful.
I don‘t wanna waste my life time on any other relationships – and I have trust: if we change these dynamics, we‘re gonna be powerful, together and collectively!

[270215]