How a Marble Jar Might Just be the Key to Understanding Trust

Who knew that a marble jar could be they key to understanding trust? Not only it is a powerful way of teaching about trust, the marble jar carries an even more important message of how to regain or rebuild trust.

Back in 2015, Research Professor and Author, BrenĂ© Brown, gave a speech at UCLA’s Royce hall as part of Oprah Winfrey’s Supersoul Sessions series titled, “The Anatomy of Trust” . {I included the link and although it is a little long– the 23 minutes will be worth your time.} In the talk, she relays the story of her own daughter’s experience with the marble jar and how it relates to trust.

She related how her 3rd grade daughter came home devastated after she had related something that was hard for her to some friends and how before recess was over how lots of her classmates had found out and then began to make fun of her causing a commotion which made the teacher take marbles out of the jar.

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A marble jar is where collectively as a class they can earn marbles for following directives etc. and then conversely lose marbles when they aren’t following instructions. Filling the glass jar with marbles would result in a class celebration.

In her devastation, her daughter exclaimed that she was never going to trust anyone again. Her mom then explained:

“Trust is like a marble jar. For every moment of trust earned, one marble goes into the jar. You only share your important stories with friends who have filled up their marble jars.”

There are two really powerful lessons that we can learn from this analogy of trust being like a marble jar. For one, it gives something that is difficult to define but so powerful like trust something that you can physically see. We all know what a marble looks like. We know that one marble by itself it pretty insignificant. It doesn’t take much to add one marble in a jar and like trust, it doesn’t take much to build.

Trust is built in small moments. Someone remembering your name. Someone keeping their word and saving you a seat on the bus. Someone helping you shovel your driveway. Someone responding to a text. In fact, relationship expert, Dr. John Gottman, refers to these trust building moments as sliding door moments: “In any interaction, there is a possibility of connection with your partner or turning away from your partner.” Trust is built in very small moments.

However, just as trust is easy to build and put marbles in a jar, it is also easy to tear down and for marbles to be taken out.

But there is something even more powerful that we can learn from this analogy of trust being like a marble jar–how to rebuild trust. Just like the young daughter, when someone breaks our trust or disappoints us or hurts us, it is easy to simply want to cut them off and out of your life. We all know and can relate to the feeling of not ever wanting to trust anyone again. However, this analogy of the marble jar holds a powerful lesson about trust. It’s not all or nothing. The marble jar isn’t just full or empty– it is actually most of the time in between full and empty. It’s not that you have trust or you don’t have trust. The fact is that trust is an ongoing process.

Building trust or putting marbles in a jar is constantly happening and is a part of our relationships. One of the most important lessons we can teach our kids is how to build and to rebuild trust when it is broken. In every relationship that you have, even those relationships you value the most, you have had marbles taken out. Every relationship will have times when that will happen. What do we do when marbles are taken out of the jar or when we have been the cause of marbles being removed from someone’s jar?

Rebuilding trust isn’t a complex task although it can require more actions and therefore be more difficult. In her talk, BrenĂ© Brown actually goes on to define trust and divides the definition into 7 categories using the acronym ‘Braving’. Defining trust actually gives us a way to be able to recognize what aspect of trust is needing to be addressed and then we can do a better job of addressing how to fix and change that. It allows for a progressive definition of trust rather than an all or nothing definition where you are either trusted or not trusted. We all know how heavy of a weight the term “I don’t trust you!” carries. Understanding the aspects of trust allows us to see areas of growth and change to improve trust so much easier. Trust is no longer all or nothing.

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Trust is something that is meant to be built and rebuilt–over actions and time when through simple moments and actions, like marbles that are placed in a jar. Sometimes when we have experienced hurt and marbles have been taken out, it is hard to stay vulnerable and allow our marble jars to stay open. However, it is a crucial life skill to learn and know how to build and rebuild trust and it starts with trusting ourselves. Using the BRAVING definition of trust, review where you are. What is your level of trust for yourself? What is an area of trust that you could improve in? We are all works in progress–changing and learning everyday.

So, put a marble jar in your office or in your bathroom to remind yourself to make a conscious choice on filling your jars by simple acts and keeping your commitments. If and when you fail, to make the choice to be quick to be accountable and make amends. Remember that the small things matter. Just as important as it is to build trust, it is just as important to rebuild it one marble at a time.

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