Weekly Wisdom – Brene Brown, Brave, and Trust

I am issuing myself a personal challenge. Every week, I would like to share a bit of wisdom that I come across and how I’ve seen that wisdom enacted in my own life, or how I’d like to incorporate it going forward.

Today’s message is from Brene Brown (I know we’ll be seeing a lot of her) on the Anatomy of Trust – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ewngFnXcqao – and what it means to recognize and be Marble Jar people.
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*Or as I will think of it, Hogwarts’ House Hourglass people. I will never not reference Harry Potter when the opportunity arises.

I will also be using the Disney/Pixar film Brave to illustrate the different aspects that make up trust and a trusting relationship because it is a great representation of a mother-daughter dynamic with a direct correlation between the strength of their relationship and the trust they have in each other. Plus, I’m a sucker for beautiful animation.

Dr. Brown begins by telling a story about her daughter coming home from a rough day in 3rd grade. Her daughter had shared something personal to a few of her classmates that was then spread to the rest of the class, leaving her teased and embarrassed and ashamed. The children’s behavior became so unruly that the teacher began taking marbles from the class marble jar (see Hogwart’s House Hourglasses above) as punishment. Dr. Brown explained to her daughter that a vital part of developing trusting relationships is determining who are our Marble Jar/Hourglass friends. Who has earned the privilege of seeing us at our most vulnerable and open – who can we trust?

In her definition, trust, and a trusting relationship is composed of BRAVING.

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*I mean, come on. How could I not use Brave as an example with the acronym BRAVING?

B – Boundaries;
There has to be mutual acknowledgment and respect of each person’s boundaries if there is to be trust. We all have people in our lives that do not respect our boundaries. This used to hurt my feelings and upset me deeply until I realized that it (usually) isn’t because these people mean to be malicious. They simply allow their wants/needs/beliefs to take precedence over respecting my boundaries, and (here’s the hard part) that is
perfectly fine. It’s neither right nor wrong, it just is. But it does mean that we cannot have a trusting relationship, at least, not until we both acknowledge and practice respect
towards one another’s lines in the sand.

In Brave, Queen Elinor and Princess Merida are constantly crossing one another’s boundaries via their actions towards one another – most emphatically demonstrated when Merida cuts the family tapestry with a sword and Queen Elinor subsequently
throws her daughter’s bow and quiver into the fire. Both of these are personal symbols of their values, their passions and both are physical manifestations of hours (years) of labor and hard work. They are testaments to their skills, talents, and abilities. To destroy them is a huge violation and even rejection of how each of them defines themselves.

House points in the hourglass, a firm zero.

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R – Reliability;
This means doing what you say you are going to do. Furthermore, someone must be consistent in these actions in order for them to be considered reliable or dependable. If you can’t depend on someone to do the things that they say they are going to do, then you cannot know what their actions will be when the stakes are high. If reliability is something we expect out of a car, it makes sense that it would be a key component of a trusting relationship.

Ironically, Queen Elinor and Princess Merida are both reliable people, however, they cannot rely on each other to support their personal needs and passions. Merida willfully flouts and disparages the royal lessons and practices her mother arranges on her behalf, choosing to see them as punishments rather than necessary instruction in her role as a future leader. Elinor, on the other hand, flat-out forbids Merida from participating in the activities, she enjoys for no other reason than that they clash with her belief of what is proper behavior for a noble lady, which isn’t a particularly good reason at all. As the story progresses, however, and Elinor and Merida face greater and more challenging obstacles – their individually reliable natures and underlying care for each other means that they are forced dependence on one another for survival is then softened into a choice to be reliable for one another.

Hourglass points? We’ll give them two or three each as this something that circumstance forces them to develop quickly, though who knows how long it would have taken them to get there on their own.

A – Accountability;
This one is a doozy, at least for me, but here it is. We all have made many mistakes and we have hurt many people because of those mistakes. As human beings who struggle with self-esteem and self-doubt, it is hard to admit to those mistakes. Not least because the people we hurt, tend to be the people we care about the most. What I am learning now, however, is that perfection does not exist (I must remind myself of this constantly). Everyone makes mistakes, it’s a daily part of our life. But trust cannot exist without a willingness to forgive, and we can’t offer or accept forgiveness until we can admit our own mistakes.

Accountability is where our protagonists see a lot of growth. Even though it takes some time before they can express outwardly the regret they feel at having hurt each other, it is apparent that they immediately recognize when and where they have gone wrong. In fact, it is Merida’s willingness to be vulnerable by acknowledging her mistake, expressing her sincere regret, and requesting forgiveness that ultimately reverses the curse she inadvertently placed on her mother (and younger siblings).

10 points to House Merida and Elinor!

V – Vault;
The vault is where our secrets live. When we trust someone, we show them our skeletons, secure in the knowledge that not only will they not rat us out, but they’ll help us bury the bodies too. In my opinion, this is the part of trusting that can get us into the most trouble. Most people, myself included, are not great at keeping secrets. When it’s something positive: a pregnancy announcement, an engagement, a job offer, etc. we (my ego doesn’t want to be alone in this) want to share and spread the joy! It’s exciting, it’s lovely and it can be extremely hard to keep a lid on that secret whether it’s our own or
someone else’s. Then there are the secrets that are not so nice: someone having an affair, job insecurity, shame about a poor choice or bad behavior. These are the secrets we share because they scare something within us, and we want the reassurance and comfort we get when someone echoes our horror or because it builds us up to see someone else struggling (that survival instinct can be harsh, y’all). Regardless of the nature of the secret, however, it does more damage to blab than to maintain the sanctity of your vault. At worst, you may make the situation worse for the person who told you their secret and damages your relationship with them, at best they’ll know that they can’t trust you in the future.

Secrets are not overt stars in Brave, mainly because of our characters’ innate integrity (see below), but we do see the power of secrets in subtle ways. Merida does keep her mom’s status and whereabouts as a bear quiet to protect her physical safety (the King
has a somewhat maniacal drive to kill bears – complete with a song and dance routine involving taxidermied bear bits). But, it’s Queen Elinor who maintains the bigger secret by not revealing her daughter as the source of the curse to those outside of their vault. Because of this shared clandestine experience, and the mutual embracing of lessons learned about one another, the end of the film shows a much more relaxed and trust-filled relationship between mother and daughter.

Hourglass say 12 more points.

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I – Integrity;
As Dr. Brown states, “Integrity is choosing courage over comfort. Choosing what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy. And choosing to practice our values rather than simply professing them.” Sounds like a damn fine definition to me, and one that I often struggle to put into practice. I am a lazy SOB sometimes. I get scared, I want to take the easy way out. I don’t want to hurt feelings and ruffle feathers. But in order to be an hourglass person, we’ve got to demonstrate our integrity as consistently and earnestly as we can, even when it is sometimes unpleasant.

In my opinion, integrity is really the driving point of the film. In fact, it is when Merida eschews her integrity and looks for the easy way out – a spell to change her fate something very much at odds with her independent, do-it-yourself mentality) that the trouble begins. Had either Merida or Elinor done the hard work of sitting in honest self-reflection and had a difficult conversation with one another about how they could support each other, the spell would never have been cast and all trouble avoided. It is only when Merida and Elinor both take action and do what is right and follow their own values (family, loyalty, love) that things can be put to rights.

15 more gemstones into the hourglass.

N – Nonjudgment;
I am my own worst critic. Whether it’s my hair, my skin, my clothes, my weight, even the sound of my voice, I promise I have judged it and found it wanting. Most of us have a little voice inside that truly believes we are in some way unlovable, and we hate to admit to an imperfection that would confirm just how unlovable we are – so we judge it instead. If we beat ourselves up over these frivolous things, how much more do we judge ourselves when it comes to the big things where we really need help? We think less of ourselves (unlovable) when we ask for help, and therefore think less of others when they ask for help. Trust requires that we drop these judgments, conscious or not because we are incapable of being vulnerable and open when we know that there is judgment involved.

Queen Elinor and Merida’s relationship at the beginning of Brave is riddled with judgments, primarily about each other. By Merida’s standards, Elinor is too conservative, too inflexible, boring, unsympathetic even. In Elinor’s eyes, Merida is lazy, undisciplined, and immature. There is also a flashback sequence where the audience sees a much younger family, just Fergus, Elinor, and Merida as little more than a toddler with her first toy bow and arrow set. At some point, Merida loses an arrow and this disturbs the great bear Mor’du who proceeds to attack the family. I contend that Elinor’s strict attitude has as much to do with the stress and trauma associated with nearly losing her daughter and husband as it is about royal responsibility. If Elinor had insisted that Merida act as a more traditional princess from the get-go, then there wouldn’t have been an attack in the first place. In Elinor’s mind, it was her ‘poor choice’ that directly endangered her family, and keeping Merida from pursuing such activities is a way to keep her safe.

I think it’s fair to award Merida and Queen Elinor another 15 points as they work quite hard to overcome their judgments of themselves and each other throughout the course of the film.

G – Generosity;
Be prepared for another hard one. Generosity in this instance does not refer to how generous we are with our time or our resources when others are in need, but simply how generous we are with our assumptions about others’ actions and intentions. Instinctively, we have a tendency to pull away from what hurts whether it is words or actions and then blame the other person for hurting us assuming that was their intention in the first place. In trusting relationships, we must consciously choose to give people the benefit of the doubt. We ask for clarification about something we perceived in a negative way, we check in without punishing someone for a perceived slight. We choose to hear the other side before assigning blame. With your hourglass people, the vast majority of the time when anything bumps against an internal hurt or insecurity you have, it is unintentional.

As with all of previous aspects of trust (boundaries, reliability, accountability, vault-ability, integrity, nonjudgment), generosity is something that we see our two protagonists develop over the course of their story. Their judgments of one another led them to be un-generous regarding the other’s intentions and actions. Rather than seeing that her daughter is intelligent and strong-willed, two characteristics that are a massive part of being a leader, Elinor sees Merida as deliberately disobedient. For her part, Merida fails to grasp that her mother’s strict attitude and seemingly harsh demands are meant in part to keep her safe as well as to prepare her for her role as the first born of the foremost Scottish clan. The two come together with a shared generosity of spirit in a particularly poignant moment when Merida, seeing that her refusal to follow her mother’s leadership has led to dissent within the clans (and perhaps war), prepares to announce that she will in fact wed one of the clan suitors in order to maintain peace. Before she can, Elinor (with a healthy dose of her own generosity), mime/dictates (in a way only a royal mama
bear can) a speech that simultaneously unites the clans while helping her daughter honor her independence.

All the house points for this one. Just. All of them.

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With all of that being said, it may be obvious that not everyone in your life is going to be an Hourglass person.  What may be harder to accept is that you are not going to be an Hourglass person for everyone in your life either. It simply isn’t possible. If we are very fortunate in this life, we will be blessed to have a handful of Hourglass people that we can trust and connect with on a deep and profound level. These are also the individuals for whom we should strive to be hourglass people ourselves because the ultimate crux of BRAVING is that we all have to start by filling our own hourglasses. We must develop self-trust and self-love if we hope to have better and more fulfilling connections and relationships in our lives.

Hopefully, taking the time to listen to the brilliant Dr. Brene Brown and having a little fun courtesy of some childhood favorites, we can all have a more solid understanding of the fundamentals of trust and how we can improve our relationships with others and ourselves.

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