Dear mister toastmaster, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to start my speech by asking you a question. If I call you one day and asked for your credit card number to make a flight ticket purchase because I’ve just lost mine. And I promised that, of course, I would reimburse you the 2000 dollars. How many of you would say yes?
Now imagine another scenario, same request, but this time the person asking is your best friend.
I think I can safely assume that most, if not all of you wouldn’t have hesitated to say yes. Now why is that? The answer is very simple. One word: trust.
By the way, those of you who said you would give me your credit card number, we need to talk.
I have been thinking about trust lately. I don’t think it comes naturally to us, this ability to trust someone whom we have just met. So what is the secret ingredient of trust? I remember watching this youtube clip where a rockstar was asked what is the attraction of crowdsurfing. And his answer was “Y’know, you have got to trust your fans to catch you.”
I don’t think I will ever get to experience that visceral feeling of jumping off the stage into the arms of thousands of adoring fans, but it did get me thinking about this strange concept of trusting total strangers to catch you when you fall. “Would I ever do that?” I asked myself. And two experiences came to mind. They had vastly different endings but both changed the way I view ‘trust’.
Here’s the first story.
I was nine years old and my family just moved to a new house. The cool thing about this house is it is situated in a very hilly neighbourhood. In fact, the street in front of my house was so steep that my dad used to boast about how much gas he saved by just gliding down the street in his crappy old VW in neutral gear.
One sweltering hot day I decided that today was the day I was going to teach myself how to ride a bike. So I was pushing my pink bike up the slopes when I bumped into the new neighbour boy, Gary. Gary was three years older than me, very tall, wears a cap and walks with a swag. In other words, fatally attractive to my 9 year old self. The result of which is I somehow let him talk me into letting him teach me how to bike.
So we were on top of the slopes, and Gary said to me.
“Here’s my secret on learning how to bike. When you are on the bike, all you need to do is push, and let the bike slide down the slope. And I will be at the end of the street, waiting to catch you when you get there. Got it?”
“Gotcha.” I flashed him a big toothy grin.
So I got on my bike, waited for Gary to walk to the end of the street, and then I started to slide.
The bike moved slowly at first, I could feel the wind in my hair, my feet were on the paddle and my balance was great. And I thought to myself “Hey, this is great. I can bike! And it isn’t hard at all!”. But then the slope got steeper and I started to pick up speed. I was wobbling and the bike kept going faster. That was when I started to really panic. I was zig-zagging down the street, gaining speed at an alarming rate and scared out of my wits. And then I saw Gary. He was right there, with his arms stretched open, ready to catch me. Gary’s image got bigger and bigger. 10m, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 …
And I swear, it all happened in slow motion. Gary, my knight in shining armour, upon sensing the impending bike wreck, threw his arms up in the air, and in one swift move, jumped from the middle of the street into the safety of the side pavement. And instead of whizzing past him decisively like the bike champion I thought I would have become, I swerved and crashed right into my dad’s trusty old VW.
This painful experience left me with a broken arm, a bruised ego, and the premature death of my fatal attraction towards Gary. And for a long time afterwards, whenever someone utters the words “I will be there to catch you” My first instinct would be “No you won’t”.
But life sure has its own way of surprising you sometimes, doesn’t it? Around 8 years ago I decided to start taking Salsa dance classes. During the first class, our teacher started out the class by asking all the ladies to pick a partner and then stand with our back against his front, with around 1 meter in between us. And then she said, “Now, ladies, slowly lean backwards… and then fall into the arms of your partner.”
I kid you not. I literally froze when I heard that. All the memories from my bike crash came flooding back to me and I started to break out in cold sweat. I briefly considered leaving the class and never coming back again. But then I turned and looked at my partner and noticed something: he was very cute, and I was single. So I stayed.
I closed my eyes, slowly but very hesitantly, leaned backwards, three, two, one… and I let go and fell. And this time, he caught me.
It was one of the most liberating moments of my life. And guess what, I ended up marrying that guy and until today he is still telling the story of how I fell for him the first time we met.
So now if you asked me what are the secret ingredients of trust, I probably still do not have all the answers. But I did learn a few things from these two experiences:
First, 12 year old boys are not the most trustworthy species in the world, no matter how good they look in caps.
Second, learning to trust is very much like falling in love. Sure there are risks and you might get hurt. But hey, if a 9 year old can get over it, so can you.
Lastly, trust is like a dance. Just like the saying “it takes two to tango”, it takes two to build trust. So, be there for the people you care about to catch them when they fall, even if they are crashing into you on a pink bike.
Now, my second question to you, and a more serious one this time: who wants to teach me how to ride a bike?