The case against trust falls

A metaphor-free look at a classic ice breaker

First and foremost, there will be no metaphor here today. There will be no deeper connections made relating either to interpersonal relationships or spiritual development. If you're on the prowl for that sort of multidimensional mumbo jumbo, I recommend you pick up any esteemed literary work. Perhaps "The Baby-Sitters Club, Volume 8."

I just want to talk about trust falls without any deeper meaning attached to it. That is all.


With that out of the way, let's begin. I went to Bible camp when I was 12. It was your standard deal. Bunk beds. Bibles. Braces. Log cabins dotted Virginia green as tie-dyed t-shirts darted to and fro capturing the flag. Inside the dining hall, campers helped themselves to sloppy joe’s, steamed carrots and lemonade mix that always struggled to find a happy medium between too watery and saccharine. If I'm remembering correctly, there was even the quintessential handsome camp counselor with a rope bracelet who tried to woo female counselors by working their names into "Hotel California" on the guitar. Cool-Guy-Counselor-Cam never did get to hold hands with Tiffany, Jessica or Britney, but it's the effort that counts.

The camp's early team-building activities, of course, included trust falls. For those of you who have never witnessed the ceremonial breaking of ice, the concept of the trust fall is simple: one person crosses their arms and drops their slack weight with the hopes the person behind will, inevitably, catch them.

Twelve-year-old-me did not dig trust falls. If you are the kind to read into things, you might want to chalk this up to some underlying emotional strife, but hold it right there buddy. Remember the ground rules here. This is a metaphor- (and peanut-) free zone. In all honesty though, the idea of compulsory fun time and strangers touching my back just gave me the heebie-jeebies.

Nonetheless, a few days into camp, we all congregated outside the chapel. Several hymns were sung and Cool-Guy-Cam led an oddly sensual acoustic rendition of “Amazing Grace." Then, it was time for the trust falls.

The counselors lined us up single file in front of a five-foot block. We were to drop ourselves off the block one-by-one into the outstretched arms of the two kids who had gone before us.

Not on my watch.

As my turn came and I peered below at the lanky limbs of whatever preteens were now responsible for keeping my spinal cord intact, the voice inside my head let out a long "naaahhhhhhhh." Then my actual voice did the same thing.

"Lily, just go ahead. They'll catch you," several counselors flocked over and tried to encourage the fall.

"Nah." I stood my ground.


"Nah." As I looked down, I could already envision the headline that would run in the news announcing my death: “Local Student, PB&J Enthusiast Dies in Tragic Trust Fall Accident.” I just kept shaking my head. The counselors were no longer chipper.

"Do you not trust your fellow campers?"

I paused, unsure of what kind of response would win me the most friends. What should I say to help build a community of sustainable trust and kinship?

"Yeah, I, uh, I don't trust these people."

The incident culminated in a special meeting between three counselors and myself regarding my supposed trust issues. Concern was expressed. Shoulders were meaningfully patted. Tears were faked so I could get out of there before the dining hall ran out of the good kind of cookies.

I don't share this event for metaphorical purposes. This is not a commentary on love or life. Simply put, I think trust falls should be abolished and feel the need to convey that sentiment until local ordinances are put in place prohibiting any non-me-sanctioned ice breakers. Trust falls are silly. Unless we're talking about the financial holdings of members of the executive branch, blind trusts are not universally the right choice.

Take the fall if you want to — but isn't it just better to land on your own feet? There’s merit in believing in the capacity for good in others, and here at U.Va., I genuinely consider most people to be trustworthy. But I categorically reject the notion that you should trust anyone right from the get-go. No one deserves your trust solely on the basis that you know one another. It’s recklessly naive to sacrifice yourself to gravity and fall back, trusting that anyone and everyone you meet will be strong enough to catch you when you most need a lift.

Did you really trust me to follow through on that no-analogy deal?


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