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.