I geek out on Brené Brown from time to time.  The author of Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, and the incredibly authentic speaker who gave one of the most-watched TED talks ever, “The Power of Vulnerability”, speaks to my heart and soul, and backs it up with great research that satisfies my head. Watching her video on Trust today, I loved the story of her 9-year-old daughter’s teacher who keeps a jar at the front of the classroom and each time the class does something positive, a marble goes in the jar.  Treat each other with respect, marble in.  Tell the truth, or defend a friend on the playground, marble in. The opposite is true, too. If the class misbehaves, is mean-spirited, or fails to listen, marbles come out. If the marble jar fills to the top, there is a celebration.  The marble jar is a living metaphor for the quality of relationship, trust and respect the class has for one another.

Brené suggests this idea of a marble jar can represent the small ways that we choose to trust someone (or not) each day. Trust happens in the smallest of moments, and when someone does something that we view positively or negatively, we either deposit a marble and build up that sense of trust or remove a marble, and deeper trust remains elusive. When someone makes good on a commitment, shows genuine concern, acts reliably, we may deposit a marble. If they betray a confidence, fail to follow through, or show more self-interest than care for others, we may remove a marble. Trust, in this way, is a living, changing act of choosing to place yourself in the vulnerable position of relying on someone else to treat you in a fair, open, and honest manner.

As I sat here in Stockholm, Sweden, about to work with a group tomorrow that has a long history of distrust, I think about what an empty jar of marbles the group has, and how much there is a need to repair trust. I realize my work here is really about healing, about helping people step into openness and vulnerability with one another, and to begin to identify what adds or removes marbles for each of them. My vision forms: By the end of the two days together, I see a jar full of more marbles than when we started.

To get there, I must model the same vulnerability. So what adds or removes marbles for me? For me, marbles go in when someone keeps their word, follows through, respects my boundaries, listens non-judgmentally, and shows deep genuine care for me as a whole person, not just whatever role I play in their life.   Big marbles go in when someone holds the space for me to authentically share deep, inner fears, and they then compassionately challenge me to grow. When do I take marbles out of the jar?  When someone’s actions betray their true intent to really be self-serving, not genuine care for others or the greater good. When someone overpromises and under-delivers, and fails to keep his/her commitments. Big marbles come out with outright lies, cheating and deceit. And then a boundary gets drawn to keep healthy people in, those that I want to add more marbles to their jars.

Marble jars are a great metaphor for the dynamic quality of relationship that we choose to build with those around us. What adds or removes marbles for you?