The Difference Between Consent and Trust

Written by and used with permission from Gray Miller

Let’s use a restaurant metaphor.

If I go to a restaurant, there is a measure of confidence between myself and the server that we understand the steps involved in buying a meal: I’m going to sit down, look at menu, make a selection, they will bring it, I will eat it, and I will pay for it.

I suppose you could call that “trust”, if you really wanted, but that’s a big word for what we’re describing here.

The point is, after the meal, I give the server my card. Do I trust them with it? No, I don’t think so. I am consenting to them charging the cost of the meal. That is all. If they copy the numbers and use it to buy something else, a defense of “But they trusted me with their card! That makes it ok!” doesn’t fly very well.

And that’s why, when they bring the receipt, I check it. Not because I don’t trust them – but because I gave them consent to only charge certain things, but it’s rush time and it’s the end of their shift and I know mistakes can happen.

If a mistake happens, I point it out. If their response is “Well, you didn’t ask for that exactly, but it was implied based on what I saw you eating at that other restaurant,” I’m not going to be happy. Same for “I know you didn’t ask for that specifically, but I could tell that you wanted it, because I’ve trained at the finest restaurants in France,” I’m likewise going to take issue. Or how about “How dare you imply that I made an error! Do you know how long I’ve been a server? Do you know who I’ve given food to? You’re a nobody, you’re just trying to draw attention to yourself!”

Perhaps even contact the management. In fact, if I tell my friends and they say “Hey! They did that to me, too!” we might even try to get the server banned – oops, I mean, fired – from the restaurant.

Because they broke the consent we’d tried to create on a very basic level.

Now, let’s take a different route. The food is good. The server is friendly. I decide to come back, and it happens again. I may start to recommend friends go to the restaurant, and not only order the yummy food but even ask for the server. After a while, we get to a point where I walk in and they say “Gray! The usual?” and I say “Yep! I forgot my wallet. Can you put it on my tab?” and they say “Sure!”

That’s trust.

Eventually we may even reach the point of “Hey, we got something new – wanna try it out? I think you’ll like it!” That’s even more trust.

But what I’m not going to do is go in to a new restaurant, look at the server, and say “I have never eaten here. I don’t know what’s on the menu. But if you don’t bring me something that I like, I will get you fired.” That’s (to go back to the top) a breach of confidence.

The idea that trust can replace consent is like saying houses can replace shoes. They are different things, they can be used in relation to each other, but they are not interchangeable.

Most of all, to be blunt: the organizations like Consent Rocks were created out of a need perceived after egregious consent violations particularly within the kink community.