One of the most vivid memories that many participants of a challenge ropes course report are their experiences with the Trust Fall activity.
The Trust Fall often sits at the pinnacle of a sequence of activities because it’s dramatic, thrilling and absolutely packed with lots of perceived (and actual) risk.
To this end, it is perfectly suited for many adventure programs. Indeed, it has featured heavily in many of my programs for more than 30 years, happily without incident or harm.
What’s In A Name?
In one of these programs, during my early years of leadership, a participant stopped me soon after I had briefed the activity to challenge me. He argued that by labelling the experience with “trust” there was an implication that upon completing the exercise, the level of trust within the group would be enhanced. In effect, he wanted to know if this would happen?
Of course, I was unable to guarantee any outcome so it got me thinking.
I was troubled by the fact that the label Trust Fall in effect telegraphed a particular outcome, and in the context of an adventure program, this was not a good fit. It cut across the grain of what I believed to be true.
Following conversations with a number of my colleagues, I then started to adopt the term Fall from Height because this label did not fall into the same trap of promising an outcome that may not be achieved. In a world in which you cannot escape gravity, I could (at least) guarantee that someone would indeed fall (safely) from height.
Now – let me be very clear here – I’m not necessarily advocating a name change. There is great value in continuing to refer to this classic group initiative by its original name for database and training purposes. I know I do.
But, let’s not excuse this convenience for missing a useful teachable moment.
From a very early point in my career, I clearly understood that “adventure” is best defined as an unanticipated outcome rather than by any particular adventure activity.
In some ways, preserving the adventure has become a mantra of mine because I believe in its power to transform groups and individuals.
To this end, anything that strikes at the heart of adventure – or choice or full value, for that matter – causes me to pause. When facilitated well, there is such power in discovery, especially when it is internally motivated and experienced within a positive learning environment.
And this is why, typically, I do not refer to the Trust Fall by its name when working with groups.
To be fair, I rarely ever introduce or brief an activity by its name a la “Okay, we’re now going to play….” because (a) my group does not care what I call the game, they only care how it will impact them and (b) there is a chance that some names inadvertently telegraph the purpose/outcome/surprise of the activity.
And I know I’m not alone because a quick enquiry among dozens of fellow educators (via the Interactive Group Games & Activities Facebook Group) confirms that many of us choose often not to label any experience by its name, perhaps for the same reasons.
As Shakespeare once wrote, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
In essence, everything is created in language (I speak more about this here.)
I want to close by pondering how this insight could be applied to other areas of facilitation and program design.
Here are three quick ideas:
Invitation to participate – for a long time I have embraced the term “invite” when asking people to engage. The phrase “I invite you to …” always lands more powerfully for people than hearing the words “You must ….” or “You will…” In this way, I can honour choice and agency, two very powerful tools to equip any group involved in an adventure program.
The art of possibility – I am careful not to say or demonstrate anything that may limit the possibilities of any experience. For example, I do not say that it is necessary for two people to clasp hands in order to successfully complete an exercise (eg Wild Woosey) – I will simply refer to the fact that the pair must have some form of “physical connection” which leaves open the option for so many more possible connections.
Can’t or Won’t? – I will sometimes challenge individuals or groups when they say they cannot do something to help them explore if they can not or will not. When you explore what’s really going on, you open your group to what is truly possible and not excuse their unwillingness on something they actually control.
Trust Fall or Fall from Height? To-MAY-to or To-MAR-to?
What do you think? Do you agree, or can you offer another perspective?