A valley in the mountains is brightened by the sun as it peeks behind the clouds. Vast forests are warmly glowing in the fading sunlight. The image is subtitled, "I am the wilderness: On trust and community."

“I am the wilderness”: On trust & community

Trust is a word and a concept that is on my mind lately. Trust is an idea that permeates all levels of our waking consciousness, and impacts how we build connections and relationships with other human beings. It is something impossible to ignore, yet it is ironically hard to define and pin down. Beyond what is written in a dictionary, what is trust? What does trust look like? What does trust feel like? Anyone who works in “community work” knows that trust is often the fundamental tie between community leadership and community members. A leader wants to be trusted by the people whom they represent, and a person wants to trust their leaders to represent them fairly and accurately.

Read more: “I am the wilderness”: On trust & community

While I was pondering this reflection, my employer announced layoffs a couple weeks ago. While there is a lot that could be said about that, what I will say is that a certain root was pulled; the foundation of trust built between leadership and employee was shaken. Only further action and time will show the full impact on the company and my remaining colleagues. Nonetheless, a very recent negative experience with regard to trust also expanded my perspective of how trust is defined and what its role is in a community.

Brené Brown on trust

Later, I came across a sound bite of an interview with Brené Brown about trust (and more). Toward the end of the interview, she talks about her book, Braving the Wilderness (which I haven’t read, but seems interesting). She explained what the wilderness is and a tool that we can keep with us (“BRAVING”) to stay grounded in ourselves and also what trust means.

She also had a powerful definition of belonging, which put forward the idea that belonging is internal to ourselves and even is a spiritual practice; belonging is not defined externally or given to and taken from us by others.

Below is my summary of “BRAVING” and the wilderness, together with notes and thoughts about how community leaders can act honestly and authentically, both when times are good and when times are hard.


Trust: Remember “BRAVING”

There are seven elements to building, developing, and measuring trust. Each of these seven elements are a resource for being honest, authentic, and genuine in both easy and hard times. You can remember these seven elements as an acronym: “BRAVING”.

B: Boundaries

You set boundaries. When you don’t know what they are, you ask. You are clear about what is okay and what is not.

R: Reliability

You do what you say and you say what you do. The hard thing is that you are not hustling for worthiness, so you are not completely over committing and not delivering.

A: Accountability

You don’t back channel and blame. You hold people accountable in a straightforward way.

V: “Vault”

You do not use stories that are not yours as social currency. You keep them in “the vault.” Using others’ stories as a bid for connection causes others to trust you less. This is the other side of confidentiality.

I: Integrity

You choose courage over comfort and practice your values. You choose what is right over what is fun, fast, and easy. Your accomplishments stand out when you operate from a place of discomfort, or outside of your comfort zone.

N: Non-judgment

You can ask for help without feeling judged. I can ask for help without judging myself.

G: Generosity

When something happens, you assume positive intent. Give someone a chance, or the benefit of the doubt, before launching into anger.

Braving the wilderness

What is the wilderness? It is those times when we stand alone, the times when we go out on a limb, the times we walk away from what we know in our ideological bunkers and beliefs.

“BRAVING” is a tool to help us manage the wilderness. There will be times when standing alone feels too hard, too scary, and we’ll doubt our ability to make our way through the uncertainty. Someone, somewhere, will say, “Don’t do it. You don’t have what it takes to survive the wilderness.” This is when you reach deep into your wild heart and remind yourself, “I am the wilderness.”


Photo by Artem Sapegin on Unsplash. Modified by Justin W. Flory.

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