One reason we tell ourselves we do not trust others is because of our scars. We go back over our history to think about events that have cost us something. I recall conducting a class on speaking up at work and the moment when a woman sitting in one of the back rows broke her own silence and lack of participation. “Fourteen years ago,” she said, “I spoke up and as a result someone I valued at work was fired. I’ll never speak up again.” She could not stand the memory of what she believed had been a mistake, and for this reason could not let it go.

Yet these scars, whether we have been hurt or hurt someone else, also tell us how important trust is. People imagine that trust is a condition of ease, well-being, and fulfillment — and from a certain angle it is, but the genuine article is not given to us without knowledge. We learn how trust works, but only through its rewards and its betrayals. The process is one of radical learning. We might prefer the fantasy that when trust exists, we no longer must learn, but that is, in fact, a fantasy. Real trust involves recovering from the betrayals, learning from them and forgiving them, and also making choices, including the fundamental choice to reach in and then to reach out.

The woman in the class wanted me to answer the question, “If this has happened to me, why should I ever trust speaking up at work again?” She was verbalizing the question that she had been asking herself, the question that had brought her to the workshop.

“Do you feel you could tell us the whole story?” I asked. It took a few moments to compose her thoughts and share the events with the group. The details are unimportant now, but her sense of responsibility for harm to another person and to herself were palpable. It made perfect sense, given the circumstances, for her to be cautious in the future about taking such risks.

“Look,” I said. “There isn’t anything I can say that might make you want to take another risk. That’s up to you. But it seems to me that being willing to tell the story and think about the impact the event has had on you for fourteen years mean something. Maybe that you are getting ready to reclaim some of the trust that was knocked out of you.” I also said, “You don’t have to make any commitments about that today; just know that you’ve potentially begun to take some steps.”

There is something about us that doesn’t want to lie down and let the scars destroy our spirit. In fact, the scars have lessons attached to them. They tell us how to trust. It’s not naive trust, which can lead to denial. It’s not childlike trust or innocence that is reclaimed. It’s transformational, conscious trust. Trust because I choose to.

If I met the woman in the class again, I would thank her for showing up. Not just showing up in the class, but showing up as a person unwilling to let the chains she’d outgrown keep her down. People talk about such things as courage and persistence, but that unnecessarily romanticizes the human spirit.

We just want to be who we really are.


Boy Painting Doorway

Technorati Tags: and . Link to blog posting. Link to Oestreich Associates website.


  • What a very inspiration story to share. I truly enjoyed reading your posts on your blogs. Looking forward for more!

  • Another brilliant inner look at trust, what stops it and what propels it! What intrigues me here is the incentive to grow. We often lack words of wisdom at the time we need them, yet through reflection, we find a finer way for ourselves and others! You showed it so well here and thanks!

    In your words, “If I met the woman in the class again, I would thank her for showing up. Not just showing up in the class, but showing up as a person unwilling to let the chains she’d outgrown keep her down,” I find courage to look again for the wisdom I need to rock past the debris of a broken world:-)

  • Ellen, thank you so much. Rocking past the debris of a broken world says it all. And yes, what really intrigues me, too, is the “incentive to grow” that you mention. We are built not only to be susceptible and vulnerable, but also to be strong and to recover from setbacks. As Paul Coelho says in the introduction to his famous book, The Alchemist, “The secret of to fall seven times and to get up eight times.”

  • Dan, trust truly is radical learning. It is something we learn over time in our interactions and dealings with others, both good and bad. We all make mistakes here, yet it is what we do to heal from poor choices that matters.

    You show much wisdom in the way that you asked the woman to tell more about her story and then describe the positives you saw in her desire to share it with others. Stories tell much about the speaker since they show an event or episode through the person’s point of view. Though no resolution would come right away for this woman, you certainly helped her envision a new pathway forward.

  • Hi Robyn — I remember how the woman’s story, though fourteen years old, seemed so close to the surface. But isn’t that often the case? We carry these things with us and are burdened by them right up until the moment we are ready to learn from them, letting them soften or strengthen us as was needed — and then let them go.

  • Gary F. Patton wrote:

    Thank you, Dan, for your helpful article. As one who was emotionally, physically & sexually abused as a child & adolescent, I can relate to what you say as truth …in my life anyway.

    For me, the Old English root for “trust” speaks volumes regarding the power and building of this crucial foundation for success at work and in life.

    In its ancient origins, the word trust is related to the words “strong”, “faithful”, and “true”. And true is related to “tree”.

    In the case of trust, like an oak, we do not bury an acorn and expect a tall, strongly-rooted, protective tree the next day. It takes patience, persistence, and faithful watering to grow an oak tree that stands strong and flourishes for a long time.

    The same goes for trust. It requires long-term commitment and plenty of figurative water.

    Building or re-building trust is crucial to our joy because life is all about relationships and …

    “Building trust is the foundation for life-long interpersonal relationships!~ gfp ’42™

    @GaryFPatton in Toronto

  • Gary, what great etymology on the word, trust! I especially like the “root” of the word extending to the meaning, “tree.” My own tree would be the ancient, weathered bristle-cone pine, able to sustain the storms, with a branch broken here or there, but deeply alive. I could not wish less for you.

    Thank you so much for stopping by, Gary, with your supportive comments and also for sharing this post via Twitter.

  • Inspiring post – and comments!

    I found myself ruminating about the “broken-open place”, from one of my favorite poems of all time, Rumi’s “Not Here”.

    I also found myself musing on a variant of the famous quote from another poem, In Memoriam A.H.H. [Arthur Henry Hallam] by Alfred, Lord Tennyson:

    ‘Tis better to have trusted and been betrayed, than never to have trusted at all.

    In skimming through some of the other lines of that classic poem, I discovered that there is a significant focus on trust, e.g.,

    I stretch lame hands of faith, and grope,
    And gather dust and chaff, and call
    To what I feel is Lord of all,
    And faintly trust the larger hope.

    I’ve been thinking – and writing – a lot about the stories we make up about ourselves recently, and [so] your comments about the woman who had been betrayed remind me of a great tweet I saw posted by @sebpaquet:

    The stories we tell ourselves can serve as straitjackets for stagnation, or scaffolding for transformation

  • Yes, I like this, Joe. That tweet of @sebpaquet’s exemplifies an inner expectation that we can follow in either a negative or a positive direction. And in Tennyson’s poem, too, the “faintly trust” line is provocative. It gets to that “something” that won’t lie down, the burning coal hidden under the ash. Quite a mystery, as if trust in life itself is a fundamental matrix, maybe one that is meant to unite our experience of one another, explaining why things like discrimination and violence and the potentially negative repercussions of speaking up are so destructive.

Leave a Reply

Your email is never shared. Required fields are marked *

This blog is kept spam free by WP-SpamFree.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.