The importance of trust

Much of my childhood was spent trying to make sense of a lot of things in my family situation that no child should, or perhaps could, ever understand. It left me feeling insecure and confused most of the time. As a result, I looked to school to be the place where I could have my desire for some sort of security and stability met. I never really felt as if I was part of any “in group” with the other children. I guess I somehow knew that my life  experiences were very different to theirs. It would have been nice to have been one of the “cool kids”, but actually the approval I sought more, was the approval of an adult in authority – the teacher. I wanted someone whom I could trust to tell me I was ok. So I was compliant, worked hard, was the first to volunteer for anything and I loved getting the reward of some praise. I cherished those moments and would replay them often in my mind. For those few fleeting moments it made me feel a little more secure and less confused. I followed the rules, it got me the desired result. This worked well for me until one day, when I was 9 years old. This day started much like any other day,  but ended up being a day the memory of which, has stayed with me all my life.

So what happened? Well, and as I tell this story you have to bear in mind this was the sixties, back in those days, all the children were given a little bottle of milk before playtime. All us children had to drink this milk (which by the time it reached the classroom was warm and always seemed slightly sticky to me) before we were allowed out to play. However, there were several children in our class who were allergic to milk and so could have a little bottle of orange instead – the holy grail to us kids. Can you imagine how much we all wanted those little bottles of orange? I am sure that for most of the children, they wanted them because they preferred the taste of orange to curdled milk. For me though, I dreamed of having a bottle of orange, simply because it would make me feel special, one of the chosen few. I didn’t and still don’t actually like orange squash!

So on this fateful day, all us children had had our drinks and it turned out that someone in the class who wasn’t one of the chosen few, had helped themselves to orange instead of milk. As our teacher, Mrs Osbourne, announced this news, the classroom went silent with shock and a sense of foreboding. Everyone looked at their feet. Mrs Osbourne did not look pleased! What would she say? Well, even though her face looked angry her voice was chillingly calm. “I’m not cross with whoever did this,” she said, “I just want them to be honest about it”. Silence fell. She repeated what she had said again and again no response. She said it again a third time only this time she added, “I am not going to punish whoever it was, I just want them to be honest”. Eventually, a small boy, David, put up his hand. Mrs Osbourne called him to the front, told him to face the wall, and then she got a wooden ruler and whacked him on the back of the legs. In my mind’s eye, I can still see the red marks. 

The whole classroom was in shock. David began to cry as did some of the other children. For me, it shook me to the core. My teacher had lied. My teacher had lied! The enormity of the thought seemed  to overwhelm all my senses and for those moments I felt frozen to the spot. I felt more confused and insecure than I had ever done and the world did not make any sense to me at all now.

Why do I tell this story? Because in many ways, for the past 48 years (yes, I am 57 now!) it has played a part in shaping my values. I have never forgotten that deep sense of betrayal. Of course I am not saying that incident would have had such a profound effect on other children in the class in the same way that it did on me. But it did for me. For me the teachers, or rather the trust that I placed in the teachers, represented the one place where I could feel some security and stability. The world now seemed a much bigger and more confusing place than it had ever seemed before.

At Kingfisher Treasure  Seekers, we try and support disadvantaged and vulnerable people, many of whom have not had the most secure and stable starts in life. Many have been let down and hurt by the very people most obligated to care for them. Many of them have been on the receiving end of, as Mary Poppins called them, “Pie crust promises”, easily made and easily broken. Courses that offer personal advance only to take it away when funding dries up. Support packages that change with each new government policy. Care staff that come and go. Honestly, I am not seeking to make any judgement about these things. Situations arise that sometimes no one can foresee and all of us make mistakes or errors of judgement. However, speaking from experience, we need to understand and take responsibility for, the devastating effect these sorts of things can have on people’s capacity to trust. 

Consequently, if you were to ask me, “what’s the single most foundational ingredient necessary to grow an organisation where life change can happen?” the answer wouldn’t be money, or buildings, or activities, or qualified staff.  Not that any of these things are not important. It wouldn’t even be the depth of love that people say they have for each other. The answer, which underpins all these things, would be simply trust.

Trust is what enables communities and individuals to be transformed, with the breaking of trust resulting in the deepest of wounds and proving to be the hardest to bear.

By the way, Mrs Osbourne, if you are out there, (which would probably make you about 120 by now), I still don’t like warm milk!

Jan Burn

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