Trust, but Verify

Form of Folklore:  Folk Speech (Proverb)

 Informant Bio:  The informant was born and raised in Yerevan, Armenia until 1990, when he and his family moved to the United States, at the age of forty two.  In his youth, he had been exposed to folklore founded in Armenian, Russian, and Greek culture.  Even though he now lives in America, he is surrounded by a tight net community composed of people who speak Armenian or Russian and come from a background similar to his own.  As a result, most of the folklore he knows is mainly based on his cultural upbringing.

Context:  The interview was conducted in the living room of informant’s house in the presence of his wife and mother-in-law.

Item:    Russian Transliteration – Doveryai, no proveryai.

English Translation – Trust, but verify.

Informant Comments:  The informant learned this proverb from his grandmother.  He believes it is something people should live by.  Trusting people is an important part of life but if people trust everyone blindly, they could get hurt very quickly and frequently.  This is why people should verify the actions of the people they are trusting to see if that person is worthy of the trust given him.  Verifying is simply security.

Analysis:  This proverb was originated by Russian leader Vladimir Lenin.  The problem with this proverb is that it is based on the idea that trust can exist when one is verifying the actions of the person they claim to trust.  The fact that one is verifying the actions of another is proof of a lack of trust.  This proverb make more sense if it was “Tolerate, but verify”.  The tolerance would imply civility and verifying would be a pleasant way of checking up on those who are being tolerated.  Trust implies far more than tolerance; verification cannot coexist with trust.

Annotation:  This proverb was famously used by President Ronald Reagan when he met Russia’s General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev and signed the INF Treaty.  A transcript with the proverb being used can be found in this archive: