Floundering in a Sea of (Mis)Trust

“Assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something” – definition of Trust

Lately I’ve been thinking about Flounder.

Flounder was the hapless Delta pledge in the movie “Animal House” who let smooth-talking Otter “borrow” his brother’s new car for a night out.

The car was trashed, and the next day Flounder was despondent. Otter then “consoled” him with this line:

“Flounder, you can’t spend your whole life worrying about your mistakes! You f***ed up – you trusted us!”

I saw that movie 30 years ago, and I still think about that scene every time I think of “trust”.

And “trust” has been a quite dominant theme in the news lately.

In Sunday’s NY Times alone, the word was mentioned in 117 articles- and in several advertisements too.

There was the piece about one of the 13, 567 people who had invested in Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme – the person “learned the same awful lesson many of her fellow boomers have these last 6 months: to never be trusting about money again“.

Or there was the ad from the TARP invested Bank of America, which boasted that “We’re taking the trust and faith that America has put in us and getting to work“.

Maureen Dowd wanted President Obama to come up with a stimulus bill that “Americans could trust“.

And then there was the most telling article of them all – a story about plane crash survivors. These were people who went through a big trauma and survived. They got a second chance to take another perspective – to take heed of the lessons of life and do things differently. When asked to think of something he could do differently, one survivor said this:

“I’m going to have very little tolerance for people who you feel are not good people, who are untrustworthy,” he said. “I just don’t want to deal with them — people you don’t want to have business with.” He added: “Really, life is too short. We really only have so much time here. Make sure you allocate that time to good people.”

It’s no wonder I’m thinking about poor Flounder – who (or what) can we trust? Financial Advisors? the Government? Bankers? Salespeople? Friends who want to borrow our car? Peanut Butter?

Yes, even Peanut Butter is suspect these days.

But trust is a necessary if we are to truly navigate our way through life in a happy and fulfilling way – if we trusted nothing, then we’d be in a permanent state of inertia.

So when I’m once again “Floundering” (like now), I remind myself of what I call the “Otter Filter” – my personal responsibility to have the “trust” I dole out earned and verified (I stole that from Ronald Reagan).

The Otter Filter means doing my homework – knowing enough about something that you can “call BS” when you hear or see it. “If it sounds too good to be true, it is too good to be true” is a well worn cliche for a reason – 9 times out of 10 it is absolutely true. The beauty of our current age is that we can “Google” just about anything and in a matter of minutes educate ourselves.

Second, it means learning from history – that “very little tolerance” that the crash survivor speaks of. It begs yet another “true” cliche- “fool me once, shame on you – fool me twice, shame on me“.

Finally, it means learning to trust myself. I don’t now how many times I instinctively didn’t want to trust something, but did anyway, and got burned.

Is the Otter Filter foolproof? Unfortunately, I believe humans are hard wired to be trusting souls, so there’s always going to be a certain about of vulnerability within us.

Nevertheless, I’m glad I have Flounder in my life to help me out every now and then. Because there are a lot of Otters out there – right, Bernie?


  1. says


    There’s a word for it! Now I can always remember it by using my new buzz phrase, Otter Filter. I wish I would have read this 15 years ago, but then again I probably was to dumb to realize I needed to implement it (take action).

    Great post. Really hit home with me.

  2. says

    Now I have to re-watch that movie. One because I like it, and two because, who knew such lessons it could teach.

    I think we may be wired to trust until experience teaches us otherwise, but we are also silly to abdicate our position on things too readily. Because of this phrase: It depends. Life is riddled with paradox. Luckily we have some really nice tools to help us determine for ourselves what things depend on.

    If we choose to use them.

  3. says

    Otter Filter activated! Don’t hold the fact that I’m in the marketing profession against me. I can actually be quite sincere, when I’m not on the clock!

    Seriously…well done, Terry. I think we both sport the singe of trusting someone or something with our hearts instead of our heads.I think you would agree, however, that living with those scars makes you, me and your legion of followers human. Sometimes trust can burn like a motherf-er, but when you find someone that vindicates it, it soothes the soul, ya know?

    Thanks for bringing Animal House into the discussion!
    P.S. New music for you to check out on my blog that I think you’ll appreciate. http://markevertz.com


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