Step Beyond Fears to Find Trust

"The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them".   Ernest Hemingway

"That`s why I have trust issues" I heard in passing, by one of the participants room the 10 day EU Youth in Action training course in Liepāja, Latvia with the Children and Youth Union . Not knowing exactly why this had been uttered, I could empathise fully with them.  The tasks and challenges so far had been making us very much aware of how competition and division between groups of people causes exclusion issues to arise and trust quickly erodes leaving people defensive and argumentative.  Living within a fragmented society where isolation is often the norm, this erodes away at our basic trust level between each other. Now our tasks and challenges were to find ways to bridge those gaps between us and work all together for greater inclusion, despite our differences and rich diversity in the group. 
     Inside the training room, we were asked to lie on the floor, with our heads resting next each other`s shoulders, with our arms up and our palms facing the ceiling our legs outstretched. The first person gently lay back onto the carpet of hands behind them.  We had to have complete trust that each and every person would keep their hands up, support and move each person along the line and in turn the person who was moved along this carpet of hands would have to accept and have the faith that they would be support.  "I don`t trust them" I whispered to Liga, one of the trainers before I fell back onto the sea of hands.   Like a small wooden boat rocking upon an unsettled sea, I was carried safely to shore.  I realised I was going to have to face my fears of trust in the group, getting over my self-defensiveness and rising above my own base level survival instincts if I really wanted to evolve.

    Several other challenges were set, using similar skills as the previous trust challenge.  Somehow we had to get through a complex web of holes that had been constructed between two trees.  Our task was to, as a group find a way to get everyone to the other side, but only using the holes once.  Gaining more confidence from our previous challenge, our collective dialogue was getting better, as was our trust and confidence in each other.  We delivered each other through the holes like a flat letter going through a post-box.  None of the strings could be touched and so the participant being delivered had to remain still and compact the rest of the team supported their weight, like the previous activity with our hands and collective effort.
    As we walked down to the beach, where we had been asked to find some stones that fit our palms, we were also asked to find and talk about the ways in which we could support each other.  This alone revealed how different we were.  Whilst one participant enjoyed many jokes about serious issues, another participant found some jokes inappropriate and unsettling.  Sensing that we may be feeling a bit vulnerable, I reassured myself that this was a good thing, that we were gradually opening up to each other, albeit tentatively.
   As we wondered back to Lenkas, we were asked to find sounds and rhythm with our stones in two groups.  Finding two very different tunes with our new instruments, we complimented each other`s separate groups, instead of seeing this as a competition.  In the following task, we were asked to number our two stones, throw them in a circle and as two groups to touch all the stones in numerical order, in less that 45 seconds.  Luckily we bridged the separation and started to work together, but slowly and with mistakes.  The trainers threw a colourful parachute over us as we all sat together and talked about how we could support each other and improve.  There were different ways for different people, but by dialoguing we were able to respect and accept those differences, instead of arguing against them. There was a marked improvement and we reached our target, all together.  I coudn`t help thinking that these situations are vital for our own survival.  It´s so easy to not have a dialogue and instead try and push our assumptions onto to each other of a certain way of doing things.  This gets us nowhere and leaves dominant leaders to fight it out whilst other sit on the side-lines.  The only way that we can move forward as a group, and a group represents a microcosm of society, is to let go of our own assumptions about the right way to do things, or our own ultimate truths and to have open dialogue, be open to each other`s ideas.  The trainers were there to push us towards reaching a target which aided dialogue, as did their facilitation.  However, we do not always have access to this outside help.  We as a group / society need to be open to dialogue and find resolutions, without pushing our assumptions mindlessly upon others.  It is good to know each other`s assumptions, but to detach from overly identifying with your own, in that way the whole group can look at each other's assumptions to transform them to be more inclusive and less separate from each other.  In that way we can all move into a different place where there is an evolution of each other ideas. We can go beyond conflict, so that new forms of living, working and being in society can come about.  Maybe sometimes, if things are not working in a group / society, we need a huge parachute to sit under and remember we are all different just like the colours on the parachute, but nevertheless, we are all equal and together.
In the next challenge, we were asked in groups to build a tower, but one of us was blind and deaf, the other only had one hand, whereas another didn`t have any sight.  The challenge was to include each other in the process.  Being blind for this exercise, I felt like I had a say, but only up to a point, because I couldn`t see if any of the ideas were being taken on board.  So I felt included, but simultaneously excluded by my limitations.  This was only a glimpse into what it felt like to be visually impaired.
Photo (c) Tadeja Rožanc 
The following challenge was a walk that had to be carried out at night.  Again in two groups we were given a map and had to find a meeting point at 7Km.  Further challenges were piled on for instance, torches had to be switched off for an hour.  Luckily it was almost a full moon and unseasonably balmy weather.  One of the participants, pointed out that beach as the brightest would be the brightest place to walk.  Collaborating, not in competition with the other group, we shared our ideas and set off at the same place but going in opposite directions.  Before we had set out on our walk we had been told numerous stories from the trainers that we had to watch out for farmers with rifles in the dark.  This information was told to our team by a convinced participant, some laughed with hilarity and whilst others, whilst skeptical left space for the possibility that someone may be lurking in the shadows over the fields we crossed. The milky way stretched across the  whole sky and galaxies where perhaps other life forms resided seemed be observing us from afar.  How well could we operate as a team?  Were we able to look after each other or were we just self-serving.  We had extra challenges that we had been set, but it was difficult to read the paper as our lights were out.  We had two trainers with us that were our guardian angels but we could only ask them three questions.  We wanted to ask question that were significant, but we had already wasted one by asking "What time is it"? We were forced to collaborate and rely on each other as a group.  Once we reached where it was time to leave the beach, I was aware that we had may need more energy, so as suggested we all stop and eat.   As we tucked into our meal of canned beef and raw fish, we decided that this was the best time to fulfil the challenges that had been set.  This involved taking a picture of one of us with a fisherman.  Asking one of the team members that spoke Latvian to help me with the next challenge, he instead asked another as he was busy with his task.  Quickly a problem arose.  Approaching the fishermen that were stood along sea-shore with their rods planted and torches upon their heads, I tried to explain that we needed to ask them if we could take a picture of them, but that we needed the light on his head so I that the picture that would be visible. It quickly became a struggle as I didn`t know any Latvian translating from English to Latvian was like Chinese Whispers.  After many failed attempts we took a ghostly picture of the fisherman and one of our team, their eyes were closed and I almost blinded them in my haste to shine that light upon their faces.  Time was running and I was aware that the other team may be waiting for us in the cold.  Simple tasks turned into mammoth challenges.  Still hungry, we set off away from the beach to meet the others.  I was unsure if this was the right path, but other`s in the team, with a better inner compass than I were convinced we were going the right way.  As we trundled along the lengthy and dark path, I kept shinning my light onto the soil fields that lay either side and kept remembering the story about the farmers with rifles.  I kept looking back to make sure that the others were keeping to the path. 
    Everyone seemed to be talking loud with each other, but as I forgot my fear and tuned into the team, I recognised Latvian, Russian and Slovenia.  They were counting.  Ah, yes, that was another challenge.  Always having wanted to learn Russian I edged nearer to those practicing the numbers and joined in.  I was almost shouting out the numbers, trying to imprint them upon my memory like a lithograph when I could just make out ahead of us a small cluster of people huddled together similarly shouting numbers in a variety of languages.  
    Wearily we hugged and gathered around each other asking if we had accomplished the challenges that had been set.  The trainers, or guardian angels, exchanged stories with each other for what seemed like hours.  Eventually we set off in opposite directions, I turned to look at the other group bunny hopping away, another of their challenges being completed.  
    Admittedly we cut the walk short and made our way back to our HQ, knowing that the other group would probably see our short cut as unfair.  Nevertheless, we made a group decision based on our collective motivation and knew that we would be locked out until the other group return, so the team building could continue until they arrived.  Another realisation flooded over me, that you do not always have to follow the rules, when breaking the rules benefits the group in a fair way and furthermore, it is not always about competition.
    As we went back to our quarters, I felt calmer, but hungry.  Looking around at our the empty tables where we usually ate like clockwork dinner at the same time every day, I understood that shaking up your routine keeps you awake, alert, alive.  We had missed dinner. Since there hadn´t been dinner on the table when and where we had expected it, we had been confused.  At first I felt angry that there had been a lack of transparency about how we would eat, but then I realised that this change the way we were supposed to find and receive information kept us alert.  Perhaps we should not fall into a malaise and expect that things will run like clockwork.  If there is a change in the environment and circumstances, ask questions, or in any case, don`t be afraid to ask questions, in that way we can get the information we need.  We had dressed up warm, ready for the night-time challenge, but had peeled off many of our layers in the balmy evening.  I felt safe and tired but  comforted and looked forward to what challenges the following day may bring.
From 10th until 21st of October, Jessica White and Jake Street, Art Education Facilitators at Thinc participated in "Include your will power – step 2". A training course hosted by Child and youth union "Liepajas Jaunie Vanagi", supported by Thinc and EU Youth in Action Training.
Photos and videos by: Children and Youth Union  Liepāja, Latvia.