September 5th, 2007

Jordan, friends, Lilly

Taking Chances and Establishing Trust

At my first school, one our our "mental education" principles was to "establish trust between teacher and student."  I'm just coming out of an interesting experience involving trust given, trust abused, and more trust given and accepted.  I haven't figured it all out yet, and it may well have continuing repercussions.  As usual, I'm pretty sure that this narrative will teach me some of them.

I'll try to keep the long story as short as possible.  About a month after I joined the school, I discovered that one of the students was a young man with whom we'd had some bad experiences at my first school.  He'd shown boundary-violating behaviors, in person and on the phone, with several young girls and, after a serious talking-to by my first instructor, he was dismissed from the school.  I elected not to say anything, but to keep an eye on him and my ears out for anything that might suggest that his behavior had continued.

About a month after that, I did hear some things from my instructor, who also mentioned that he understood I'd had some previous encounters with the guy.  I took that as my opening and had a frank discussion of what I knew.  He also shared some more recent information, including an allegation of groping/kissing a young girl at a local yoga studio.  My instructor explained that, while he recognized that the young man was a liability, he also felt that he (the instructor) might be this young man's last shot at redemption (he's been kicked out of every martial arts school in the area).  I let it go at that, with the assurance that the instructor was keeping the young man away from women and kids.

The next stanza of the saga is that I then discovered that the young man is a registered sex offender (statutory rape was the crime).  And found out that my instructor knew that.  About 2 weeks later, I saw the young man at the school and went on the most extreme hyper-alert I think I've ever experienced.  I planned my route into the building to avoid close contact.  I rehearsed how I was going to tell him to leave me alone if he tried to talk to me.  I kept one eye and half my attention on him every second he was present on the floor before and after class.

Later, of course, I had to try to figure out why that had happened.  I concluded, after some thought, that I had done some subconscious calculus and concluded that this guy is more than just a messed up young man with questionable judgment.  He's a sexual predator.  At best, he was using the school -- and my instructor's forbearance -- as camouflage.  At worst, he was using the place as a hunting ground.  I contacted a number of friends, many of whom are experts in this stuff, and all concurred.

At that point, I knew that I only had one option, and that was to approach my instructor.  It wasn't a matter of "me or him."  It was a matter of trying to persuade him that the young man represents a real danger, that he needed to be dismissed, and that the adults and parents at the school needed to be warned about him.  I also had to decide what I was going to do if my conclusions weren't accepted.

And here's where a lot of trust was involved.  I did trust my instructor to hear me out.  And, even though I've only been a student there for a few months, he trusted me enough to take what I had to say seriously.  I'm beyond grateful for that, as I have begun to put down real roots at the school and was really saddened at the thought that I might have to leave.  More importantly, of course, I trust him to ensure that his students are no longer at risk (even though I'm not quite sure he buys the level of risk I'm pretty sure exists).

I'm not sure how I earned his trust, except that I've tried to let my actions -- in this case, my training ethic -- speak for me.  I had hoped that I could trust him to see what that meant (that I value my training in general and training at his school specifically), and he did.  I trusted that he would understand how little I wanted to risk that, and again, he did.

Now that I'm thinking about it, I almost forgot the most important "trust" of all.  I trusted my intuition about the young man, enough so to risk some things I value dearly.  That's actually a huge step for me.  Like many women of my generation, I was taught that "women's intuition" was the fuzzy-mindedness that passed for real thought and analysis.  It was not something to trust, and certainly not something to act upon (unless it was predicting the sex of one's unborn baby, perhaps).  I had to teach myself to trust it, and that wasn't a lesson that came easily. 

Acting on it, once I accepted it, was both easy and hard.  It was a real no-brainer that I had to say something -- and I'm used to sticking my neck out and saying unpopular things when I think I'm right.  What was hard was knowing that I really couldn't just use intuition as my reason for concern; that my case would be strongest if I could reframe that intuition; if I could break it down into the empirical observations and connections that it comprised. 

I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing.  On the one hand, I prefer that mode of thought; it's what I'm trained to do as a scientist and it's something I'm very comfortable with.  It led me to dig a little deeper and gather a lot more evidence and support than I would have otherwise.  And I learned a lot by doing that.  On the other hand, it would be kind of nice to live in a world where everyone's intuition -- but women's especially -- was given more credence.  That is, it would've been great to be able to say "You know, this guy creeps me out; my intuition says he's really dangerous." and to get, in response, "That's important information.  Let's work together to see what we can find out and how we can resolve things."

I hope we can all reach that level of trust some day.