Bodhipaksa sent this out in a newsletter at the end of last year. Good timing for me to find!
Recently someone asked me what she should do if she couldn't trust a person she was being kind to. In the past she'd tried to be compassionate to a roommate she didn't trust, and had even felt herself to be in danger. She didn't say what the exact circumstances were, but it sounded scary.
Being kind to someone means treating them as a feeling human being who, like us, has a deep-rooted desire to be happy and an equally deep-rooted desire not to suffer. It means empathizing with the fact that happiness is elusive and that suffering is all too common. Bearing these thoughts in mind makes it harder to be unkind to the other person and easier for us to treat them with empathy, kindness, and compassion. It becomes easier to care for their wellbeing.
Trust means knowing or believing that someone can be relied upon. It might mean that they can be depended on to look after our best interests. It could mean that they can be relied upon to tell the truth. It might mean that they can be relied upon to do what they say they will.
I think generally we can in fact trust most people, even complete strangers, but when there's a history of dishonesty or manipulation, or when you pick up on a bad vibe, it's best to err on the safe side.
But kindness and trust don't necessarily overlap. We can treat everyone kindly, but a person may have a track record of not caring for our wellbeing (possibly even of being cruel or exploitative), or of being unreliable, or of being untruthful. Under such circumstances it might be very unwise to trust that person. They simply haven't earned our trust. They're not trust-worthy. Trusting everyone is what we call "idiot compassion."
But you can still be kind to a person who isn't worthy of your trust. Knowing that they're a feeling being, you don't have to want them to suffer. You may have to say or do things that make them unhappy (like saying "no" when they ask if they can borrow money) but you don't do that with the intention of making them suffer. In fact if we're being kind we may say "no" to another person because we want them to be happy! We don't make people genuinely happy by enabling their vices.
I'm not saying, incidentally, that it's easy not to have ill will for someone we distrust, just that's it's possible and that it's what we should aim to do.
It sounds to me that the woman who asked this question had got herself into an enabling or codependent situation. Not wanting to appear cruel, she didn't want to stand up to the other person. Wanting to be kind, she didn't want to say no. But she was confusing trust and kindness.
If we fear that the other person is trying to exploit or harm us, we need to be very careful. Some people want to rip us off or even physically harm us. Sometimes we need need to be kind to ourselves by getting the hell out of Dodge! We should be kind to everyone, but in some cases we should be kind from a safe distance.