In the past three days I’ve pulled a middle-aged all-nighter, been sequestered in a labor negotiations situation room, had to rely on my personal experience and sense of integrity, and experienced the best and worst of human behavior. In those three days, I came face to face with the realities of trust, courage, and our obsession with hiding behind the illusion of a conversation. It was as if a concentrated microcosm of my life was whirling around me in a tornado of missed opportunities mingled with sleep deprivation and false hope. In the aftermath of it all, I find myself reflecting on the issues I’ve been parsing through with my Facebook fast and my wavering daily commitment to write the truth. I’ve lost a few days of writing, but I’ve been living a truth all the same.
On Sunday, as I was in recovery mode I read a quote by Ernest Hemmingway that said, “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” That is hard to do at a negotiating table when you have advisors and attorneys telling you that trust is not a strategy. And here is the hardest part. I look across the table at the people we are negotiating with and they are people that I trust, people with similar values, and people that may not see the issues at hand in the same way, but want many of the same things all the same. I think about the people that I have trusted in my life and how Hemmingway’s quote is true. Those that have been careless with trust, whether it be with a friendship, a business deal, a promise, or in sharing a moment of vulnerability not only betray me, but reveal their true character and cowardice. I have found that those that hold trust sacred and dear more than often are the courageous. They ask the hard questions. They show up and never waver in their benevolence and take care to do no harm. They stand resolute in knowing that trust is earned and they reveal who they are in that discipline. When I trust someone, it is a moment of truth. It’s the moment when I take the mask off and let them see who I am, where I’ve been, and where I aspire to go. The truth is in the waiting and in the action. How someone holds my truth, honors it and cares for it tells a lot about who they are as a person. In my middle age, I no longer have room for the careless and the reckless that have spent a lifetime apologizing for their missteps. I like to think that I am the first to give someone a second chance, but I also know that I am the last to give up hope that someone or something will change. That has brought me more pain and disappointment than I deserve. Trust me, I know that road well.
That leads to the second epiphany that occurred by witnessing the many ways people hide behind convoluted processes and/or the latest devices to avoid having an honest conversation. The most movement in our negotiations happened when people met face-to-face and addressed the issues and put themselves at risk by sharing truths, even when we weren’t sure where the conversation would go. With a face, you can often read intent, emotion, and sincerity. With email, shuttle diplomacy, or back channel conversations, the translation is often lost. I've struggled with putting my finger on what was missing in my world with all its connectivity. I have kept up with technology and I have a PC, laptop, and cell phone and they all enable Facebook, texting, emailing and digital imaging 24/7. That same world is pervasive and has crept into every cranny of our lives including the negotiating room. Notes can be sent wirelessly to each team member and nobody has to really pay attention to what is being said because a digital document will be waiting to comb through later. It was an interview on NPR with Sherry Turkle that helped me connect the dots of what has been at the core of my recent disdain for technology that positions itself as my best friend. Sherry Turkle is the founder of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self. Her book, “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other” captures the reality behind why we can be in constant digital communication, yet feel very much alone. Regardless of whether you are a child, teenager, or adult in today’s world, the experience is the same. We have replaced authentic, truthful conversations with digital connections and we are paying the price. Texting and hitting “like” on Facebook tells us what we want to know: who wants you or sees you at that moment. Call it immediate validation. Face-to-face conversations are rare and seen as places that are scary, offering no control over the interaction and its open-ended structure doesn’t allow one to edit their persona prior to posting. The emotional space that is necessary for a conversation is the same space that is diminishing right before our eyes. Instead we substitute various methods of connection to put a temporary salve on the loneliness that a controlled and connected world delivers. It takes trust to have a face-to-face conversation. It takes a commitment to the truth to put down the Blackberry or the iphone, or to have a conversation rather than leaving a voicemail or shooting off an email. It takes courage.
For me my Facebook fast, my offer to sit down at a table to talk, and my openness to offer an open hand instead of a closed fist is as much about trust as it is about connection. For me, I am making an investment in a tried and true method of connection known as the human kind; my personal experience is that the digital kind is a far cry from the real thing.
© Kelly Tweeddale 2012