How Do You Trust? (Power & Trust Pt 2)

Contact Improv

From ‘Who Do You Trust?’ to ‘How Do You Trust?’

Trust is a beautiful thing.  The tether of all relationships, it is a fundamental human need to trust and be trusted. For this very reason trust also becomes a lever by which operators gain power over people who trust too much.  We trust too much precisely where we have an unmet need, a hunger, a hole that needs to be filled. We need someone or something to fulfil the part of ourselves that we can’t fulfil ourselves, and this makes us vulnerable. From priests and gurus flogging heaven or hell and enlightenment or despair, to slick salespeople, to politicians from Capitol Hill to the Kremlin, to get rich quick schemers and weight loss dreamers, there’s lots of people who know how to play our vulnerabilities while offering a quick fix for the discomfort that lies there.

I don’t want this to seem too dark and cynical.
The play of power and trust is nothing new and it exists everywhere, and possibly most acutely in our most intimate relationships.  We can all be predatory, and we can all be vulnerable; we’re all human. So the question ‘Who do you trust?’ is really not all that useful.  You can trust anyone at least a little, and you can trust no one absolutely.  A more useful question is ‘How do you trust?’.

The Elements of Trust in Contact Improv

I practise an improvisational dance form called ‘Contact Dance’ in which partners completely improvise a dance while staying in physical contact, normally without music. This is an intimate and revealing dance form as your movements and the choices you make are invented in the moment without recourse to external forms or predetermined choreography.  It’s pure personality expressed through physicality.  Typically dancers will exchange weight back and forth and skilled dancers are capable of using momentum and speed to lift one another into the air in astonishingly acrobatic ways.  But besides momentum and speed there’s a lot of trust involved.

When you pour your weight into someone you are putting yourself in their hands, trusting that they will catch you or bear you well or, better yet, move you in a free and liberating way that opens new possibilities.  But there are many different dancers, and every dance is different, and every moment is different, and how much you can trust is something you gauge constantly depending on who your partner is and from moment to moment.  Some people love to bear weight but are afraid to give it, others it‘s the opposite, some can do neither, and some can do both (and good dancing really does require both).  The point is that a good dancer is constantly making good judgements, moment to moment, on how much they can trust their partner.  If you trust someone too much – pour your weight onto someone who is unwilling or unable, or just not quite stable or ready in that moment – you end up on the floor.  Or by trusting someone too much you may allow them to manipulate your body in ways that you’re not comfortable with. Conversely you can try to bear too much weight, or overextend to ‘save/catch’ someone who trusted you too much from a fall, and end up with an injury.

In Contact Dance good trust judgement, good choice, is firstly about knowing yourself: where you are in space, how extended you are, how close you are to the edge of your physical limitations, the state of your own balance in this moment, how daring you feel, your self-knowing of what feels right, right now, in this moment.  Good trust judgement is secondly about having great sensitivity to the dynamic state of your partner microsecond to microsecond: where they are in space, coming towards or going away, pushing or pulling, giving or receiving, solid or soft, or not there at all.  Good trust judgement is thirdly a global awareness of the dance itself, as if it were a third partner with its own agenda: the mood, the tempo, the natural and organic evolution of the dance which neither you nor your partner can fully control.  Most importantly, good judgement is about trusting yourself.  If you trust yourself, and you know how much you can trust your partner, then you can trust the dance.

Please note that I’m not saying “If you can’t trust someone you can’t trust the dance.”  Obviously it’s really helps if you can trust your partner, but I repeat, if “you know how much you can trust, then you can trust the dance.”  You can actually have a very interesting dance with someone you don’t really trust, so long as you trust yourself.  You’ll maintain clarity about your needs, you won’t give them a lot of your weight, you’ll never put yourself in their hands enough to be uncomfortably manipulated, you won’t overextend, and you’ll constantly return to your own centre and balance.

Contact Dance is a great metaphor for trust in all its forms.
How do you deal with a con artist?
You maintain clarity about your needs, you don’t give them a lot of your weight, you never put yourself in their hands enough to be uncomfortably manipulated, you don’t overextend, and you constantly return to your own centre and balance.

Collaborating Without Trust

Julie Diamond, author of ‘Power: A User’s Guide’, gave the keynote address at Berlin Change Days.  Her take on trust is gritty, realistic and refreshing. In her blog post ‘How to Build Trust: Break It First”, Julie starts from the assumption that “No one is ever fully trustworthy… being fully trustworthy is not possible… There are a million reasons why, in any given moment, our behavior undermines our trustworthiness.”
Life without unicorns or fairy dust.
We will disappoint, and we will be disappointed 1)For Tibetan Buddhist renegade Chogyam Trungpa “Disappointment is the best chariot on the road of the dharma.”  Disappointment reveals with brilliant clarity the hard difference between our desire and what’s actually happening. . If we desire trustworthiness in all our relationships, engagements and encounters we’re going to very disappointed.  “Befriend the fact that people are inherently unreliable, and learn to work with it, instead of pretending you can prevent it.” writes Diamond.

Adam Kahane’s most recent book, entitled ‘Collaborating With the Enemy: How to Work with People You Don’t Agree with or Like or Trust’, is dedicated “To my enemies and teachers.” Kahane has worked as a collaboration consultant in plenty of high conflict situations: South Africa during apartheid, Colombia where the toxic cocktail of civil war, poverty, corruption and drug cartels made even the notion of collaboration seem absurd, to name a couple. In these VUCA (Vulnerability, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity) situations conventional collaboration, in which there is a shared understanding of the problem and an agreement of a final goal, doesn’t work.  “In conventional collaboration”, writes Kahane, “we focus on working harmoniously with our team members to work on what is best for the whole team… This approach works when we are in simple situations that are under our control: when all of our perspectives and interests are, or can be made to be, congruent.  But when we are in complex, uncontrolled situations, where our perspectives and interests are at odds, we need to search out and work with our conflicts as well as our connections. We need to fight as well as talk.”

The radical challenge in trying to collaborate with people you don’t trust is to avoid ‘enemyfying’.  If we need to have the final solution, and we need to be able to trust the people we’re working with, then, when those needs aren’t met, we will fall into characterising our co-collaborators as ‘the enemy’. Someone has to be at fault for the failure of the process. I’d rather it not be me, and if it’s not me, it’s them.  But this instinct scuppers the collaboration.

Kahane suggests what he calls ‘Stretch Collaboration’. In Stretch Collaboration participants “do not agree on what their real problem is or on what the solution is – maybe they will never agree and maybe they actually don’t know.”  It requires a capacity to move forward “amid uncertainty and contestation.”
Not for the feint of heart!

Paradoxically, the capacity to bear through the conflict of contestation and the anxiety of uncertainty results in greater connection. It builds trust. In fact, the building of connection (with the ‘enemy’) may be an even more egregious aversion for some than engaging in conflict.

“What is crucial”, according to Kahane, “is to create the conditions under which participants can act freely and creatively, and in doing so create a path forward.”  So, in this form of collaboration, where there is little or no trust or agreement, you are not working towards a common goal, but just towards ‘creating conditions’; a common space in which stories can be told, and heard, and connections can be made.
“They [a collaborative team in Colombia consisting of politicians, drug cartel leaders, human rights activists, civil servants, etc.] collaborated… without having a single focus or goal…
They collaborated without having a single vision or road map…
The team collaborated without being able to change what others were doing.”

“trust is not a precondition to working together, it’s the result.“ writes Kahane.  Enough trust can be grown to embark, together, on small experiments, that can lead to greater experiments; a path forward.

How do we learn to trust ourselves?

How do we trust?
How do we trust ourselves enough to not need to trust others more than they can offer?
How do we trust ourselves enough to not make ourselves vulnerable to exploitation?
Do we trust ourselves enough to bear the uncertainty of working (or living) with people we don’t fully trust?

How do we learn to trust ourselves?
That is a question worth following!


References   [ + ]

1. For Tibetan Buddhist renegade Chogyam Trungpa “Disappointment is the best chariot on the road of the dharma.”  Disappointment reveals with brilliant clarity the hard difference between our desire and what’s actually happening.
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