In the past few weeks of work I have been able to catch up with most of my friends and find out what they did over the summer. The best thing I’ve heard by far is that my friend Genise climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. But I have to say that wasn’t so much the immensity of the mountain or the extreme climates and elevations, as the way she described the challenge and how she accomplished it.
You almost have to know Genise to fully understand how great her account was. She has the most animated way of talking and the hugest smile ever. She’s also tiny– not someone you’d necessarily expect to take on such an endeavor.
As she was recounting the experience to me, Genise said that several times she didn’t think she’d be able to go on. What made her keep going was the relationship she had with her guide Saidi. He has been climbing Kilimanjaro for 24 years. Saidi was a man of few words, so when he spoke, she listened. His daily saying to them was “Hakuna Matata.” (“No worries” in Kiswahili.) Because he had such a calm demeanor, she was calm too. But the most important part of the relationship, was that she trusted him. Completely. She knew that nothing was more important to him than getting her safely and successfully up the mountain.
I asked Genise if after trusting another person with your life, do you feel more likely to trust others? Her response was yes and no. She trusted Saidi with her life because he was experienced; he knew what he was doing. She knew foremost that he wanted her to get to the top of even more than she did. In addition, he listened to her if she expressed any concerns as they went up the mountain. She trusted him to tell her to turn back if it became a life or death situation.
An easy take away from this story is that anything can be accomplished through trust, right? But I think there are much more nuanced treasures to glean from this, both as a teacher and as a person who stutters.
As a teacher I want to build trust with my students, many of whom have had difficulty trusting teachers and other authority figures. Many have experienced traumatic situation in their homes or even at school and they are often on guard around adults. Each of the reasons Genise trusted Saidi with her life is something easily applied to a classroom. The one that jumps out first is ‘staying calm’. This can be particularly challenging when a student is having a ‘meltdown,’ but showing that you are there to support them whatever the situation is, can go a long way toward building trust. The next is ‘showing that you know what your are doing.’ How many times have we heard or said, “I don’t know what to do with you?” Those words hold a lot of meaning that we may not intend to convey. But I think the most important takeaway from is a willingness to listen to concerns and treat them respectfully. I think this builds trust, no matter the situation.
As a person who stutters, I am often on the other end of the trust dynamic. When I take the risk to stutter openly, I am putting trust in another person the moment I open my mouth. I am saying ‘I trust you enough to show you this really vulnerable and sensitive part of myself.’ I can’t help but wonder if there is reciprocity that comes naturally with trust? Will stuttering openly with my students, as I do, will help them come to trust me faster. I can’t help but believe it will.