Trust, Vulnerability and a Marble Jar

BLOG- VulnerabilityI’ve trusted people I shouldn’t have. I’ve opened my heart and been hurt.

I’ve expected loyalty but got betrayal.

At one time or another, haven’t we all?

Trusting someone requires vulnerability. What I’ve learned, the hard way, is that you can’t allow yourself to be vulnerable with just anyone. People have to earn your trust. I used to just give it away- no prerequisites.

My mother (I think I’ve mentioned) used to call me Tinker Bell. And it was mostly because of this- I was too trusting. I couldn’t fathom that someone would deliberately hurt me: repeat a secret I’d shared or make fun of me in a group.

I was wrong.

Brene Brown, a research professor, writes about trust and vulnerability in her book, Daring Greatly. She says that vulnerability is full of uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. It is based on mutuality and requires boundaries and trust. Vulnerability is the core, the heart, the center of meaningful human experience. It is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy and creativity.

In my defense, understanding that vulnerability was the road map to those gifts was the reason I opened myself up again and again.

But I didn’t know about the Marble Jar.

When Brene Brown’s third grader came home from school devastated because a girl in her class revealed her embarrassing secret to her entire peer group, Brene’ struggled with how to best teach her daughter about trust and connection.

She didn’t want her daughter to operate out of fear and become disconnected in an attempt to stay “safe”. Even though it makes sense that after a betrayal someone might disengage and stop trusting, it is heartbreaking to imagine that outcome because one of life’s greatest joys is connection.

Her daughter’s teacher kept a clear glass jar on her desk, and whenever the class did something positive she put marbles in the jar. Whenever the class did something negative, she took marbles out. That day, the class was so unruly she took marbles out of the jar.

Brene told her daughter to think of her friendships as marble jars.

“Whenever someone supports you, or is kind to you, or sticks up for you, or honors what you share with them as private, you put marbles in the jar. When people are mean, or disrespectful, or share your secrets, marbles come out.”

I’d say this marble jar idea holds up in any relationship: parent, child, sibling, friend, lover, spouse, co-worker.

I love the Marble Jar metaphor. It is a concrete reminder, one that is useful for someone who is 8 and someone who is 48, that trust is built one marble at a time.


Friendship Matters


Once I was in a gigantic slump and my friend, Susan, came to my house to comfort me. We laugh now, looking back, that my child’s Magic 8 Ball was the only solution she could offer.

I held the ball in my hands, hopeful.

Q: Will everything work out? A: Hazy, try again later.

“Well, do it again,” Susan said. “Don’t give up.”

Q: Will this misery pass? A: Don’t count on it.

Q: No, I mean will it eventually pass? A: Very doubtful.

But Susan held strong. “Shake it up. Try again.”

Susan is not Kim. Kim is a psychotherapist, and other best friend. Kim believes in talk-therapy. She would’ve listened, less solution focused. Empathetic, she would’ve had tears in her eyes too, and begged for a turn with the 8- Ball. Susan is not Pam. Pam would’ve wanted to get my mind off things. She would’ve wanted me to stay busy. She would’ve suggested a trip into Manhattan, a couple of drinks, shopping.

I shook the ball again and prayed for a proper outcome.

Q: Will I feel better soon? A: Cannot predict now.

Susan sat next to me as I overturned the ball again and again until...

Q: Will I feel better? A: Most likely.

My friendships are dear to me. Essential. And so I was disheartened to read that friendships are fading.

In a Harvard Medical School study, researchers found that not having close friends leads to increased stress hormones and blood pressure; and it could be as detrimental to your health as smoking. Not having close friends leads to feelings of isolation, depression and emptiness.

So it is a shame that we don’t always have the time to nurture these relationships. Or we don’t make the time. (See this article from The New York Times: What My Friends Mean to Me.)

My friends tease me that when they call, I treat them like telemarketers, which of course, I think is totally untrue.

And this is because of what is true, which is that they mean the world to me.

These are friendships that go back decades and whether we are being as adventurous as Thelma and Louise or as kooky as Lucy and Ethel, we have been there for each other through all of life’s challenges: problems with our kids, marital discord, divorce, bouts of cancer, financial issues, and even losing a spouse.

These are things the Magic 8 Ball can’t fix. But a friend sitting next to you on your couch, as you cry, a Magic 8 Ball in your hands, while you make up outrageous questions to ask it—loony enough to make you laugh—even when it was the last thing you could imagine doing.

That could fix things.

Q: Will these friendships last forever? A: It is certain.


“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. “Pooh?” he whispered.

“Yes, Piglet?”

“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s hand. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”

 -A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh