Column: The Great Trust Fall


By Dan FitzPatrick

I recently was asked to participate in a senior executive level panel discussion on best advice for job seekers in the current economy.  Not because I am any kind of an expert on that topic, but because over the years I have had the chance to hire a lot of people at a variety of different firms and companies.  In preparing for the event, my thoughts took a somewhat unanticipated direction.

Any successful human group endeavor, in corporate form or otherwise, depends on trust.  There are other important factors for sure, but long-term cooperation cannot survive without trust, and fear is ultimately a pyrrhic motivator.  Teams are often more productive and successful than individual contributors, and many companies go to great lengths to build high performing teams.  One team-building technique which has been popular over the years, is the “trust fall.”

According to Wikipedia (the lingua franca of the social media age), “A trust fall is a purported trust-building game often conducted as a group exercise in which a person deliberately allows themselves [sic] to fall, relying on the other members of the group (spotters) to catch the person.”  The description paints the picture.  It is an image I can’t get out of my head.

There is a surprisingly large amount of literature on the topics of trust, belief and faith, and the relationships among them.  I am no philosopher or theologian and will leave the final decision to others, but in my mind trust and belief are different sides of the same coin.  Belief presumes trust in things which cannot be perceived, and trust requires belief in outcomes that cannot be assured.  Faith then is the trust and belief in a power beyond ourselves.

Faith is a (perhaps the) central theme in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.  From Noah to Abraham to Moses to Mary and through the Acts of the Apostles there are countless stories of individuals who said “yes” to requests they could not possibly understand and undertook tasks which to all the world appeared futile.  In each instance, we are told, those actions had positive consequences far beyond the powers of human imagination.

I have a favorite “trust fall” image from the Bible.  It is found in Matthew 15:25-33:

Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.  When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

By a spontaneous act of faith Peter accomplished the unimaginable.  However, “when he saw the wind, he was afraid” and began to sink.  I suspect many of us can relate to that moment, when doubt, worry and negative thoughts can rob us of our confidence to move forward.  Note the final four words of the passage: “why did you doubt?”  I believe that Peter’s failure was not that he did not believe, but that he did not trust that belief sufficiently in the face of the perceived perils around him.

My takeaway from all this is that life itself is “the great” trust fall.  We are called to look beyond the issues and problems of today, filter out or ignore the voices of negativity and division, see through the mendacity that appears to dominate our media and politics, seek out, celebrate and support that which is good and true in our country, our communities and our families.  Throw ourselves forward, with abandon, into the future.  Trusting always for a safe landing.

Norman Vincent Peale, the author of The Power of Positive Thinking, had it exactly right when he wrote: “Believe in yourself!  Have faith in your abilities!  Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.”

And of course, Jesus said: “All things are possible for one who believes.” (Mark 9:23)

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