“It’s hard to trust when all you have from the past is evidence of why you shouldn’t.”
Over the last couple of posts (and in a few offline conversations) I’ve reminded myself how integral Trust is to Story. And it’s integral to Story because it’s integral to us – to how we work, to community, to relationships. Trust can be manipulated and broken by deceivers like Mysterio. It is used to deliberately misdirect to get to a “surprise twist” that is such a component of sensationalist money making entertainment disguised as Storytelling that is consumed but once (“Ooh, no spoilers” – more on that another time) and discarded.
Trust is the foundation of the unwritten contract between audience and Storyteller. It’s the thing which means no matter how fantastical the elements, the storyteller will always be true to themselves, their characters and their themes – and be honest with the audience (although sadly we’ve seen this isn’t always the case.) It’s when audiences perceive beloved characters acting out of character for no apparent reason that the Trust is challenged – if the issue is resolved with a revelation that stays true to the internal logic of the Story world that Trust is held up and made stronger; if the issue is left unresolved or it is apparent that it was simply to shock, surprise or make things more interesting for their own sake, then the Trust is damaged.
If trust within the mechanics of Storytelling is a complicated thing, Trust in every day life is equally so. It is pivotal to every sphere of life – Marriages, Child-Parent bond, Vocational life, politics, diplomacy and of course Religious communities. Without it how does one know their employer will pay them on time? How does one know their employees are doing what they are paid for? How can you know your parent won’t strike you for the tiniest infraction? How can you know your child isn’t walking along the railway track? Without it, treaties and trade deals cannot work. Without it, workplaces become places of bitterness, cynicism and control; bullying and abuse are rife among managers and staff become unproductive, demotivated and mentally ill. Without it our communities become corrupt places where only reciprocity rules, where bullies and abusers thrive and where relationships are no deeper than the floor of the red sea at its parting.
When I recently asked a group of people whether they knew about Lucy and the Football there was a mixed reaction. Some knew exactly what the reference meant, including how it was a comment on the subject of Trust which we were talking about. Some didn’t have a clue… So if you’re in the latter camp here’s a brief Primer.
Charlie Brown wants to kick a football (the eggy American type). Lucy holds the Football in place for him to kick, but when he reaches the ball to swing and kick, she whips it away and he goes flying in the air and lands on his bum. Thing is this isn’t a one time thing. It happens again and again. Charlie Brown wants to kick the ball remembers what happened the previous time and so is rightfully wary of Lucy. Lucy then undertakes a masterclass in gaslighting, manipulation and classic abuser behaviour in convincing Charlie Brown that she won’t pull the ball away this time and he “should just trust” her. And every time* Charlie Brown runs to kick the ball, Lucy pulls it away and remarks how he should never have trusted her.
(*There was one time Lucy did not pull the ball away, following Charlie Brown being in hospital and she had promised not to pull the ball away if he got better. Sadly, although she fulfilled her promise he actually missed the ball and kicked her finger instead.)
Apparently this is satire. I personally don’t find it funny. However I do find it an excellent example of classic abusive relationship, especially one where one person (or group) in the relationship has more power than the other and with that power abuses Trust. Charlie Brown is always initially skeptical of Lucy, quite rightly in my view. And yet every time he is guilted or manipulated into trusting her.
Too often these days if this relationship were played out in schools and workplaces and churches and communities the onus would be put on to him to summon up trust, to be aware how important trust is. The guilt for the lack of trust in their friendship would be put on him. He’d be told “Trust is built by giving trust” Ye, that’s bollocks. And it’s simply not how trust works.
The truth about Trust is that the onus should be on Lucy to change her behaviour. If Charlie Brown doesn’t trust her, that isn’t a character flaw on his part, it’s a result of her masochistic torture – she doesn’t do what she says she is going to do and because of her actions harm comes to Charlie Brown. The guilt for lack of trust in the friendship should 100% be placed on Lucy’s shoulders. Charlie Brown’s Trust in Lucy isn’t built by him just summoning up enough trust. It is built by her behaving trustworthy.
I’ll leave you to chew over this analogy for a while. Because this is only half the story when it comes to Trust. Because with trust our friendships and marriages and workplaces and communities and countries become something else. It’s easy to say what happens without it, it’s easy to identify the bad fruit of its absence. But the other, more powerful side of the coin is what our lives look like when it works and it’s there. What can we do to build it, to gain it? What can we do if it is broken? What can we do when it’s abused? What does Building a culture of Trust really look like? Think on it for a while.