Over the years I’ve used the analogy of a brick wall for trust, and knocking out bricks as a breaking of trust. In a recent conversation with friends at a bar – where all great philosophizing takes place – our erstwhile bartendress (I’m making that a word) and Beer Valkyrie raised a different analogy. As the analogy still makes sense in the sober light of day, I’m adopting it and expounding on it further.
Trust is more like an arch bridge over a river, with each party on opposite shores. Winters of discontent will crack paving stones and some other bricks. As long as they are repaired by both parties, the bridge stands. Life’s floods and detritus will slam up against the abutments, may even knock a few bricks loose. Again, as long as both parties are diligent, the bridge will stand.
And it is very much in the interest of both parties that such a bridge stands. Without trust, regardless of relationship, both parties will ever remain on opposite banks with no real way to cross over and communicate. With the exception of yelling, which is, self-evidently, ironic.
So how does an arch bridge fall? The keystone. Take the keystone out and it all falls down in a moment. I’ll go a step further and say that a keystone only comes down through willful, intentional force applied against it. In which case, words are every bit as powerful as actions are in the effect on keystones. It doesn’t matter if words are said to shake someone out of some mood When applied against the keystone, words may as well be the action.
Consider that such a bridge of trust takes time and resources from both parties to build. When it comes down, both parties again have to be willing to invest the same time and resources – if not some significant amount more – to build a new bridge. The bridge may have to cross a different span, on completely new abutments. There is no repairing a bridge whose keystone has been taken out. The new bridge will take a different form and redefine the nature of the relationship, if it is built.
As I look back on my relationships, professional and personal, I realize that in the circumstances when my keystone – my trust – has been attacked, I’ve been able to differentiate between words said in anger and words said in becalmed seas. In the latter case, I’ve tried, Atlas-like, to shore it up alone. But that seems to invite further attack and eventually even my shoulders tire.
There should then be a signpost, on either end of this bridge – “Ware Words That Cannot Be Unrung.” To be certain, there is no harder task in a relationship. But given the signpost carved from our experiences, what excuse can remain?