“If we can learn to trust one another more, we can have unprecedented human progress Frances Frei

I am the antithesis of intimidating. I dont see myself as others see me. And I use excessive positive adjectives. Despite or because of this, I fulfilled (on one occasion, according to one person) the three core criteria that build trust.

In her inspiring TED talk, Harvard Business School professor Frances Frei deconstructs trust and highlights core elements that work together to build, maintain, and rebuild trust. The three core criteria are authenticity, empathy, and logic.

I continue to explore the concept of authenticity every day. In my mind, I choose to believe that every human is equipped with a finely-tuned authenticity radar that can pick up very subtle outgoing and incoming signals. What we choose to do with the data varies greatly and is highly affected by fluctuating thresholds for discomfort (fear) of having to go against the herd and brave the wilderness of coming face to face with who we are, why we are here, and what we are doing about it. The signals work in multi-directions. The less interference they encounter, the deeper the empathy. When empathy and authenticity merge, strong connections and genuine relationships are created, leaving no room for judgments, conditions, and narcissism. Throw in logic to the mix, and a strong force is formed that is potent enough to transport us toward trust. In that realm, I visualize the soothing surrender of faith trust, in ourselves and the universe around us.

Can you begin to imagine what kind of world we would be in?

What happens when your authenticity signal is challenged and tested?

Story # 1: After an early morning rainy day swim practice, a friendly chat with a new lifeguard left me speechless and thrown off-kilter. Thanks to hindsight, I can sit back and patiently and slowly disentangle the lump of messy yarn that has conveniently situated itself in my mind. To help you with the visual, it rests atop a round table around which sit a group of middle-aged, loud, big women that call themselves the itty bitty shitty committee. [Note: this is borrowed from a friend who borrowed it from another TED talk on trust that I cannot trace.]

Woman 1: How dare he even speak to me, let alone offer unsolicited advice?

Woman 2: He looks so fit and knows what he is talking about.

Woman 3: What does he know anyway? He looks like he is in pre-school. He is too young to pick up wisdom, beauty, and incredibly athletic prowess. He knows nothing about the metrics of health.

Woman 4: Your relationship with him is 50 minutes old. Everything he is telling you is coming from what he sees in those minutes.

Woman 5: He sees what he sees. This is his reality. It has nothing to do with you.

Woman 6: He is afraid you are going to take his job. He recognizes talent. You are a threat. (A wise, beautiful, athletic threat.)

Woman 6 (Itty, bitty, shitty committee head): He does not care about you. He is simply stating a fact his fact, with nothing to prove and no agenda to implement. Take it and cut the cord.


There is a massive divide between my view of myself as I tread the waters (practice yoga asana/run/make a speech/write these words): graceful, streamlined, effortless, world-class swimmer/Olympian/athlete/public speaker/Pulitzer author [INSERT EXCESSIVE POSITIVE ADJECTIVES] and the worldly mundane manifestation of a middle-aged, overweight, beginner swimmer who can only move forward with fins and prayer.

This itty, bitty, shitty committee has more less helped itself into every aspect of my existence, analyzing and tainting my life, causing a temporary state of paralysis due to system confusion.

Story # 2: I was very proud of myself for speaking from the heart at a recent event. At the time, I was not familiar with Dr. Frei and her research on trust. Inspiration flowed. Self-deprecating jokes were met with laughter. All in all, it was a great success. The itty bitty shitty committee was in celebration mode, not for the win but because they were waiting for it. It came. In the form of feedback: excessive use of positive adjectives.

These are some of the weeks highlights. Suffice it to say, the universe is making sure I am hearing the message loud and clear. It is exhausting. And exhilarating. The itty bitty shitty committee has been in retreat, undergoing thorough self-auditing, and unveiling interesting insights and anxious anticipation for self-improvement.

It is a blessing to be someone people feel comfortable offering their unsolicited views/feedback/advice to. The empowerment comes in the realization that everything one absorbs is a choice. It is also reassuring to remember that the itty, bitty, shitty committee has no endurance for the long haul much like shitty encounters of the romantic type.

Humility should be part of the trust cocktail. It is nurtured, and unlike the itty, bitty, shitty committee, in it for the long haul. That feedback you get that sometimes bursts your bubble is fertilizer. It keeps you grounded. And real. And trustworthy.

Excessive use of positive adjectives got me to learn about Dr. Freis work on trust. (It was feedback of the positive kind from a member of the audience who felt moved to reach out and share the talk.) My positive adjectives come from my vocal heart.

I say we begin with trusting ourselves. Start by being true to who you are, despite the fear. It may seem overwhelming, but my experience has shown that the fear subsides as soon as it is acknowledged. The process involves developing feelings of empathy toward ourselves as we witness the logical and sometimes illogical deliberations of itty, bitty, shitty committees. Facing our discomfort and looking at every aspect of our existence ensures we have plenty of fodder for growing the roots of humility and kindness. Once the self-trust is solidly established, we can organically open up to the world around us. When our relationship with ourselves is genuine and healthy, every relationship we build from then on even with lifeguards we may never encounter again contributes to our growth, service, and fulfillment.


Leave a Reply