More than at any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray that we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”
When Woody Allen wrote these words forty years ago in the New York Times (August 10, 1979) it was the opening joke in his article entitled “My Speech to the Graduates”. Forty years later, this does not feel like a joke at all. We are living in a time of increased anxiety, incessant turmoil, and a barrage of media spin. This aura of anxiety has the potential to live in us, in the parents in our school communities and in the lives of our students where adolescent suicide has become the second largest cause of teenage death in the United States.
What Woody Allen didn’t offer is a third option-the option to create hope for the future by expanding our capacity to build community, a sense of belonging, and human connection through our increased skills of self-trust and self-care. It is up to us.
I consult with scores of international schools around the world, and increasingly, the number one request for my services is the teaching, facilitation, and repairing of trust among the adults which includes board members, the leadership team, teacher teams or teachers. In many situations, the biggest challenge is the lack of self-trust … to believe in our own ability to repair damage to trust, to diagnose and speak to misperceptions, to sincerely apologize and then correct a mistake, or to listen deeply to someone’s viewpoint which is vastly different from your own while withholding judgment.
All of these scenarios require internal clarity, a judgment-free ability to seek to understand, ego management, fearlessness, and the ability to negotiate a common ground. These scenarios also rely on our belief that we have the skills to withstand hurt, manage anger, and reframe fear and miscommunication even when it is directed at us.
Self-trust also means that we not only have internalized these skills; we know how to coach them in others. Self-trust highlights our ability to know how to build an infrastructure which can shift a toxic school culture into one of trust and support, and if we do not currently have that ability we believe that we know how to learn it. Self-trust also suggests that when we are the punching bag for adult misbehavior, we know how to practice intentional self-care so we can be present, grounded, and generous with our smile and supportive of others the next day.
HOW TO BUILD SELF-TRUST
Building trust, in general, is one of the biggest challenges that holds back organizations and teams from being healthy and successful (Covey, 2006; Gottman, 2011; Brown, 2012, 2019). Trust is the foundation of strong relationships, collaboration, and honesty. Without trust, there is no psychological safety, and colleagues are afraid to take risks, try new things, learn, and grow for fear of retribution. Trust can be elusive. People can sense if it is there or not, but few leaders truly take the time to study it, embrace the components of it, and grow it intentionally and consciously. Even fewer still take the time to learn that a system of trust actually starts with us in the form of self-trust.