The marble jar of trust

Professor Brené Brown presents the formula for testing trust with others.

First article in the series

What is trust? What’s it comprised of? What makes us trust certain people, but not others? How do we choose the people we place our trust in when we share secrets, or we’re going through some tough situation?

Brown began researching trust following a personal experience. Her daughter returned from school, crying her heart out at having her trust betrayed by her two closest friends. She looked up at her mother and firmly said she’d never trust anyone again!

To help her daughter through this tough spot, Brown used an example taken from the classroom and which she continues to use in her lectures. She asked her daughter to think about the jar of marbles that the teacher kept on her desk. It was there to reflect the students’ behavior. When the class did something helpful, the teacher added marbles. When they did something inappropriate, the teacher removed marbles. “Trust is built one marble at a time,” Brown explained to her little girl. “You share those hard stories, the hard things happening to you, with friends who, over time, have filled up their marble jar.”

Professor Brené Brown is a researcher at Houston University and her TedX talks have been some of the most watched in the world. Brown’s research studies courage, shame, vulnerability, empathy and other related emotions and states. Her study on trust goes beyond the limits of academia and is presented in a way that’s accessible to all of us, offering practical tools that help us understand our relationships with others. BRAVING is the title Brown gave to her tool. It’s actually an acronym for the 7 components that build trust. The way Brown unravels the highly charged, complex concept of trust lets all of us examine our relationships with friends, family and colleagues. It also lets us see exactly where our trust has been harmed, and whether, relative to the other components, we have the ability to rectify the situation and rebuild trust.

And what about self-trust? Here, too, we can apply the BRAVING tool. Does betrayal by someone close to us mean we can’t rely on our own judgment? Brown offers a clear formula that allows us to check that for ourselves. When your personal jar of marbles is full, she explains, and when you know you can rely on yourself, then you know you can also have faith in your choices of people to trust.

A series of articles on trust based on Professor Berna Brown’s research:
First article: The marble jar of trust
Second article: The anatomy of trust
Third article: Personal braving for self-trust

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