Who Do You Absolutely Trust… with Your Life?

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Editor’s Note: This post is another entry in the Prepper Writing Contest from Bolo. It is the first in a series about an issue preppers should be thinking about now. Trust in the context of a SHTF scenario could have extreme consequences if not viewed logically and with great discernment. Who do you trust and could that trust eventually put you or your loved ones at greater risk?

One of the most important aspects of preparedness is the process of establishing a group of people who you can count on when the chips are down.  But what does that mean when the situation comes down to really basic survival, when there will be no power, accessible fuel, food or medicines for the foreseeable future?  What if every stranger you encounter represents a potential or real threat to the safety of your family and/or to your community, whether large or small? What if the tasks of achieving and sustaining security become the collective responsibility of individuals rather than local government?  If that happens, who can you trust?

I have not chosen the word “trust” lightly.  Trust is performance based.  For the most part, it is objective and, therefore, measurable.  Even where it may become subjective in nature (such as an assessment of someone’s character), it will be based upon standards that you have developed over a lifetime.  I may have faith in an individual, but even that term owes its existence to a steady build-up of confidence, like building blocks, which ideally leads to rock-solid trust.  Is such a thing possible?  I think it is, but it requires you to assess individuals in a way that you may have never thought about – at least in the context of survival.  Importantly, it is a process that must begin long before you are confronted with a life threatening crisis.

If you’ve raised any children you already know that every degree of trust that you give to them is based upon the demonstration of prior, as well as continuing, progress in every aspect of their growth, training and development, character and conduct.  So it is with individuals that you choose to stake your survival on.  Stated differently, if desperate circumstances forced you to throw in with a group that you had no prior knowledge of, you would be casting your fate to a far lower standard called “hope;” which can alternately be defined as desperation.

I want to emphasize that effective assessment of survival group participants is really a long-term process.  You have the benefit of knowing your immediate and extended family over a relatively long period, and it affords many opportunities to observe.  In urban settings, neighbors may come and go.  Some may not be very sociable, or you may only get opportunities to learn more about them at infrequent intervals.  That can make it difficult to assess their strengths and weaknesses as potential survival partners.  Don’t rush the process, but don’t neglect the need and value of building a survival support network, either.  The larger your support group is, the better off it will be for you and them.  It should go without saying that you can quietly assess people without disclosing your prepper orientation and objectives.  The Prepper Journal and its contributing writers have touched on this issue numerous times over the past few years.

Team of climbers reaching the summit.

If desperate circumstances forced you to throw in with a group that you had no prior knowledge of, you would be casting your fate to a far lower standard called “hope;” which can alternately be defined as desperation.

If you are married, your spouse must take an active role in helping select individuals or other families that will become part of your survival group.    Trust your instincts.  If, after assessing their prospects, either of you has a gut feeling that says “no” it’s best to pass on that individual, even if they demonstrate some aspects of prepping skill.  Your reasoning for accepting someone into your group has to be as rigorous as your rationale for declining someone.

Sources of Support

There are four sources of mutual support that you can potentially draw upon during a temporary or sustained crisis:

  1. Family (nuclear and extended)
  2. Neighbors
  3. Friends
  4. Your local community

You may think that your family members, by virtue of a blood relationship, automatically fit into the “trusted” category for survival purposes.  That could be a fatal assumption (more on that, later).  In similar fashion, just because you enjoy the company of a neighbor for his or her friendliness at a Friday night poker game does not mean that they possess the qualities needed to enhance your survival prospects, or even their own family.

The context that I use for friends is confined to individuals that share long-term common interests and skills as they pertain to survival.  For example, a hunting, fishing or backpacking partner.  In my experience these tend to be deep relationships that stretch over many years.  You may have known that person since childhood or developed a deep friendship and common interests with someone at work.

The concept of “community” might be a bit vague, depending on whether you live in densely populated urban areas or less populated rural settings.  That distinction is important however, and your prospects for developing a successful support system may diverge in very dramatic ways between those two settings.

I’ll come back to these mutual support sources later, but first, let’s examine what I believe are the essential building blocks of trust.  Your list might be longer or shorter, but here are my top five “starter” categories that should get you thinking.


You may think that your family members, by virtue of a blood relationship, automatically fit into the “trusted” category for survival purposes. That could be a fatal assumption.

The Foundations of Trust

  1. Character: The moral and ethical nature of an individual or group. I’m not trying to be moralistic with this category – your principal objective should be centered around avoiding individuals with a demonstrated history of behavior that could endanger your survival.  For example, you might know a neighbor that borrows but never returns, someone with an addiction or other serious behavioral issue. If so, you may justifiably view them as persons who might steal your food, other essential survival supplies, or place you in direct physical danger.  Once you are cooped up with a predator, it’s too late to hear your wife or daughter say that she doesn’t feel safe around him or her.
  1. Conduct: The manner in which a person carries out their activities, assignments, duties or obligations.  Whether at work, in your neighborhood or at family gatherings, you undoubtedly come to know people who are industrious and passionate about their chosen role in life.  It may be a neighboring family that enthusiastically invests countless hours in gardening, an associate that is always trying to find a better way to perform a task, or a relative who overcomes difficulties with dignity and poise.  In contrast, you probably also know people who make a career out of taking shortcuts, exhibit unsafe practices, take unnecessary risks, or never quit seem to complete a task without intervention.  The question is, do you want to surround yourself with achievers, slackers or reckless people when you are in a survival situation?
  1. Judgment: The ability to accurately assess risks, needs and courses of action.  That is, people who demonstrate good analytical skills and sound judgment in the course of their work, a specialized activity or daily living.  In a protracted survival situation, you will be confronted with innumerable challenges, many of which you will have never encountered before.  You will need people around you that are able to think well, both inside and outside of the box and provide good counsel, rather than people who simply react to fear.  Remember this:  Real survival situations mean that your margin for error is far smaller than in ordinary, day-to-day living.  You don’t get to take a Mulligan if your risk analysis is faulty.
  1. Knowledge and Experience: The knowledge and skills that provide someone with the ability to effectively and consistently perform a task. This is an issue of training, experience and, to a degree, physical capability.  It requires that you objectively determine what types of expertise a person possesses.  There is a huge difference between “exposure” and experience.  Assigning the wrong tasks to an individual may bring harm to them or to the entire group.  Since we are talking about trust in the context of survival, this necessarily means that several members of your group should have demonstrable skills in field craft and the effective use of firearms.  Failure to select individuals with vital survival skills will put your group at risk in the long run.  By contrast, selecting only individuals that are skilled in the use of firearms – and nothing else – means that your group is only fit to be a raiding party.  Give me an accountant that was a combat medic and I’ll be happy.  Give me an accountant and a combat medic who each possess additional survival skills, and I’ll be four times as happy.
  1. Capacity: This includes physical ability, stamina, age and health as it pertains to certain tasks. For example, you may have a high trust level in someone’s ability (young or old) to stand watch, even though they are not physically able to dig a well.  He or she may be able to patrol a one-mile security perimeter, but not have the stamina to perform a 20 mile foraging hike in rough terrain.  In other words, someone may have perfectly adequate capacity for certain tasks, while being limited in other areas of need.  A person’s physical limitations should not be an automatic disqualifier, particularly if they can contribute in other important ways to group survival as described in the preceding categories.  In essence, “capacity” is a function of matching knowledge and experience with physical durability under specific circumstances.

These five criteria, and others that you may wish to add, provide the basis for establishing a level of trust about individuals that you may wish to include in your survival group; whether they be family, friends, neighbors or the community at large.  My list comprises more than these five, and includes a shared religious faith in God.  Your list may include other diverse requirements that are perfectly valid for the circumstances that you envision.

I think it is important to say that trust is something that you confer to an individual, rather than to a group.  In other words, the trust that you develop with one person should not automatically extend to his or her associates, particularly if you don’t know them.  Simply stated, you are ultimately responsible for assessing the trustworthiness of every member of a group that you may choose to form an alliance with.

In Part Two, we will take a closer look at the four sources of potential support in survival situations.  That is, family, neighbors, friends and community.  The five criteria that I’ve presented are appropriate for each type, but the application of these criteria vary in subtle but important ways.


  1. Caljack

    May 18, 2016 at 10:57 am

    Great job! You listed and described many key points which all of us can and should use even now in our some what normal lives. The one question I do have is mixed. While I understand your statement:

    “It should go without saying that you can quietly assess people without disclosing your prepper orientation and objectives”

    I think all of us can point to someone who would be a good candidate to add to a
    group only to find out that their conduct at work or at church masks a totally
    different mindset and or character in a stress full situation. When you assess someone you tend to build a mental image in your mind of how they will react or what role you might mentally assign them to.

    Example, a couple could have a great outward relationship and been married for a number of years, when suddenly they decide to paint a room or remodel something. It is quiet normal, to suddenly discover that you never saw that sudden mood swing or shortness of temper in them before.

    A sudden prepper situation and those objectives would be totally alien to a
    person that you feel you could trust but has not really been part of a prepper
    group. How they would react, how they would response to a semi military
    structure –could make that person react totally different than what you think
    they would.

    like you said it is a gut feeling and a matter of trust.

    • Bolofia

      May 18, 2016 at 12:30 pm

      That’s why I think it’s important to base decisions about people by using a good foundation for assessment. If the final decision is based on a gut feeling, I should be prepared to ask myself what my gut knows that the foundations of trust failed to reveal. In the next installment, I’ll try to address the questions that you raised. Thanks for reading and your comments.

      • BobW

        May 18, 2016 at 9:14 pm

        Bolo, I personally never second guess my gut. Its been right too often to start second guessing.

        Even if all reads indicate everything is good, if there is that niggling feeling in your gut that something isn’t right, there’s a reason for it.

        • Bolofia

          May 18, 2016 at 11:25 pm

          I guess a point of clarification is in order: I’m more concerned if my gut says “yes” when the foundations say “no.” That’s what I would call a gamble, with lives at stake. If the foundations say “yes” and my gut still says “no,” I’ll probably go with my gut.
          Does that make sense?
          There is no perfect science to assessing fellow human beings. We’ve all been deceived by someone in the past, and we’ve all be happily surprised by someone’s behavior as well.

          • Kula Farmer

            May 19, 2016 at 10:46 am

            Someone told me go with your gut, so far its always worked out,
            I know people who are sorta supposedly friends, but my gut says dont trust em, im going with that, from all ive witnessed they are full o sheet so very justified to keep them at arms length,nsame with some others close to me, my gut tells me that they could be a liability if things come apart, thats a tough one but i know im right. They are just too willing to condemn my views and buy the government line,

  2. BobW

    May 18, 2016 at 9:32 pm

    Ties in with the ‘Wannabe’ article.

    Trust with mine or my families lives? The circle is terribly small.

    To me, it seems that decisions about ‘knowns’ should be made before they show up to the fort. Its not really that hard to run through the likely family and close friends who might show up at the gate wanting in.

    Crack addict bro-in-law? First thought would be hell no. Not worth the trouble…but he’s seen some shiite. I might have taught him to shoot when he was a kid. Question must be, “Can I control him, and keep him in line?” He’d be a provisional yes. Riot act will be laid down before a yes is given. No slack given. Would he turn on us for his benefit? I’d have to say that there is a real chance.

    Mother-in-law? Shoot no. She’s earned a ‘no’ vote after so many incidents. Cold? Sure as hell is. Will I feel terrible for doing that to my wife? Absolutely.

    I could go through the list, but you get the idea. Taking stock of the likely ‘non-preppers’ who could show up BEFORE something bad happens is important. Have discipline, be honest, and make many determinations before something happens.

    • Bolofia

      May 18, 2016 at 11:28 pm

      Well said. You should write my next installment, or at least edit it!

      • BobW

        May 19, 2016 at 11:45 pm

        I’d be glad to help out.

  3. Huples

    May 19, 2016 at 6:07 am

    Great article and I’d only add “sense of humour” to the list 🙂

    On the topic of trust one thing I always tell students is “trust no one, especially yourself”. Plan, prepare, train, practice, and repeat. Have Plan B, C, and D. Use check lists. Anal but they work in stress situations.

    The “gut” works better than we know but preSHTF try to assess the family and neighbours in stress situations. Don’t kidnap them and torture them (well maybe some of them!) but how do they deal with rain during their BBQ? Do they calmly cover up everything and continue onwards with the day or do they shout, run around, and generally frack up?

    Analyze and spy on them. Do the neighbours and your hunting friends have tidy properties with cars and such in good condition? (are they organized?) Borrow some tools. Are they willing to share? (are they generous) Are their tools used and in good condition? (are they careful and handy) When the tree comes down do they come and help? Do they stay and haul wood or chat drinking beer? (social versus hard worker).

    You are very correct about job categories. Most jobs these days have zero utility in a major SHTF. Some jobs are useful but have a wide variety of skill sets. ED nurse versus a nursing home nurse is a prime example. Frankly a keen first aider would be a beter medic in SHTF than many RNs/MDs. Speaking generally here but look at them hard, real hard before any thought as to allowing them to eat and drink your supplies and have access to your safe havens.

    I’m a university professor part time and a health services manager. Kind of useless, eh? But if you chat to me you’d find out I teach global health, communications, leadership, pathology, clinical skills. All good things. I’m also big on history and literature which will have a role. As a manager I run a major trauma hospital at night on my own. The entire place. Every mini SHTF here I am leading the response. Emergency planning and disaster response are a daily part of my job and not via attending meetings either but by putting on water proof boots and managing evacuations and mitigation. If you further chatted you’d find out i have two decades as a trauma ICU nurse with a side trip of four years doing lung and liver ICU transplant. Long winded but the point is that I agree with Bolo. Trust your gut but ask questions and look for strengths as well as weaknesses.

    I’d also say look really hard at yourself first. How useful would you be to a prepper group? What skills can you offer? What skills could you gain and offer?

    • BobW

      May 20, 2016 at 2:16 am

      Wow. And here I was thinking Huples was just some kale eating jamoke.

      You hit on a great point. Just because someone’s day job is “financial analyst” or “accountant” or some other worthless sounding profession, doesn’t mean they are devoid of skill. Many intellectual endeavors can provide useful skills AFTER.

      When I tell someone I was Army, people ask me what I did. If I say “infantry”, they assume I am a knuckle-dragger who slayed bodies. That scarcely begins to define who I am, and what I did in uniform, but it was my classification. It also eliminates who I am, besides ‘slayer of bodies.’

      And no, I’m not a sniper. Putting 52 rounds down range a year does not suddenly create a sniper.

      But I have a certain degree of mastery in, um…solving problems. Not the usual skill set one might target at the end of the world, but honestly, one that can save your bacon (or tofu for Huples 🙂 ) when your veritable d*ck is in a wringer.

      Hard to define, but easy to demonstrate. I’ve been paid near-obscene (to many) amounts of money to solve peoples’ problems during my working life. Generals and Executive level civilians were forced to defer to my knowledge and ability. Its not arrogance, its reality. Sometimes I fed higher ranking people with the ‘smarts’ to talk through the issue, but always, I was the one who could actually solve the problem.

      I don’t fit into a cute little niche. Honestly, I can do just about anything a person might need. I’ve spent most of my adult life looking at how people do things, and finding a better way of doing it. Given a little time, I can build a chicken coop by hand. I’m not a mason, but with a few minutes to think through it, I can build a bunker. Sure, I can reach back to that infantry training and build a reinforced fighting position, but my talent is in solving problems many can’t resolve alone.

      My point in this, is to dig a little deeper before you cast someone out. That person might be the one that brings great value to the tribe.

      Be careful who you consider admitting to your tribe. Character is terribly important, but the ones you want are those who add value to the tribe. Finding that value is the difficult part. Sometimes its easy, but honestly, finding a person who will pull the trigger without hesitation is the LAST person you want. Without similar values, that person is a wildcard.

      Skills that augment your current arsenal add value. You can’t do any of this alone. Looking beyond the physical presence in front of you to get more of the true picture can only add to, or detract from what you see.

      • Huples

        May 20, 2016 at 4:57 pm

        Kale’s the new beef mate 🙂
        Jamoke I’ll have to goggle.
        The reverse is also true. Great CV and skills but a nut job personality that treats women as cattle and picks fights. Not a great member.

        Groups will form and merge organically and local communities will form. I still think avoiding anyone new until after the first winter is the way forward. Having done a drive around last week with my gf as a info trip we were horrified to see how many suburbs have gone up south and west of us. Tens of thousands now right on our flanks. Currently looking at bugging out early unless pandemic instead of staying bugged in. Way too many people here and some will check each house within walking distance at some point. Having to reorientate our entire shtf plans. So add flexibility to desired characteristics 🙂

        • Bolofia

          May 20, 2016 at 10:56 pm

          Well said. That’s my reference to “out of the box” thinking in Foundation #3. What I fear for my fellow humans is that most will not be able to effectively deal with the unexpected, unanticipated, unplanned situations. To borrow an metaphor, one curve ball can put you out of the game.

          • BobW

            May 23, 2016 at 1:13 pm

            Nicely done, fellas. That “out of the box” flexibility/adaptability is kind of what I was getting at. I kind of see it as the “MacGueyver” talent.

            There are guys who can see a pile of scrap and see the catapult within. There are guys, given the right parts can build a catapult. Both add value. When you can help link those guys up, you’ve got a working catapult.

        • BobW

          May 23, 2016 at 1:24 pm

          A jamoke is a guy who can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.

          I’m not thinking to go out looking for people, but honestly, I don’t have a cabin deep in the woods with no obvious access road. I fully expect to have to deal with folks walking down the road. Luckily, the sidewalk ends not far past our place, so the likelihood of the unwashed masses conducting their exodus past our place is remote.

          I’d always be on the look out for someone who could be a fit. I can’t be a charity program, but finding an engineer, home builder, farmer, rancher, mechanic, or medical professional would be a plus to any group.

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