Trust Is a Pattern

Please use your personal and professional experience to complete the following sentence:

Trust is . . .

a.    A delicate flower that matures over time, is a delight to the heart, and can be destroyed in a moment.

b.    A bridge that is built brick-by-brick to gain strength over time, support heavy loads, and persist for a lifetime.

c.     Both a and b.

d.    Neither a nor b.

None of these answers is absolutely right or wrong. If you have a different analogy that captures “trust” in your life, I would love to hear it. In the meantime, I do know which of these answers is both TRUE and USEFUL for me. My final answer: b. A bridge.

My experience with personal and professional relationships over time proves to me that this definition is true. The people I trust continue to enjoy my trust. Even if they disappoint me or do something I don’t expect, I assume they have a good reason and will explain it to me in time.  On the other hand, people I don’t trust have to prove their good intentions to me over and over again.

Even more important, though, is that this definition of trust is a useful one because it can inform action. Nature grows a flower, using energies and pathways that are beyond my knowing or influence. On the other hand, if I am careful and willing to learn and work hard, even I can build a bridge. If trust is a bridge, I can make choices, and my choices will make a difference in relationships with others.

When you think of trust as a bridge, you realize it is not one action, nor is it a simple, unified overarching sense of connection. It is a pattern that emerges from innumerable actions. Each act adds depth and texture to the pattern as trust grows stronger and more robust over time.

If trust is a bridge, then what Adaptive Actions will create a pattern that is strong enough to withstand the weight of change and flexible enough to maintain its integrity over time?

►   WHAT? Know where you are bridging to. Trust can connect you to other individuals, groups, institutions, or communities.  While all of these are useful, they require very different kinds of construction. Individual trust is based on shared history and stories. Group trust may depend on norms or rituals. Institutional and community trust often rely on commitment and consistent contribution. While they are all bridges, one doesn’t necessarily translate into others.

►   SO WHAT? Know the weight limits. No bridge of trust is indestructible. Every one has its limits. While the bridge gets stronger with each added load, there is always a point of stress that is too much. Reach that point, and the bridge will collapse. Become more careful not to overload a trusting relations, even when it appears to be strong.   

►   NOW WHAT? Create the big bridge by collecting small ones. Each interaction is a microcosm of the relationship that will evolve over time. Every little act either contributes to or detracts from the overall pattern of trust. Be conscious of creating trust in every cycle of Adaptive Action.

Over the last month, I’ve worked with groups where trust is the most important bridge that connects them. Nonprofit boards, co-housing communities, families, peacemakers, and faith communities thrive on trust. They self-destruct when the bridges of trust collapse. I have also watched the political processes in the US and abroad. I have mourned with victims of terror in Florida and around the world. We might wish for hearts and minds to transform and blossom into relationships of trust and caring, but it is hard for me to see that path. I wonder if the bridge-building metaphor might prove more useful to generate trusting relationships and the personal and social stability they provide.

What do you think?

Glenda Eoyang
June 15, 2016

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