Wellbeing Institute Blog: Let’s start with this word, “trust”. Why is trust important for you?
Ruxandra Mercea: Throughout the years, I realised the impact other people’s trust had on me and I was even shocked when other people trusted me more than I trusted myself. That is when I started this journey of understanding what is happening, why on so many occasions I doubted myself, my instincts, and who I am. Why I spent so long seeking other people’s trust before trusting myself. And that is when I realised that if I was conducting my own search related to trust and if so many people around me were preoccupied with the same thing, then surely we could do more. And so an outward search began, in my personal as well as professional life.
You are the leader of The School of Trust. What do people need to know, in short, about this process?
In past moments when I was awarded trust I felt what this could do in my life. I was still in school and there were adults who said: “You can do it, you’ll succeed, I am here with you!”. And this taught me responsibility. Now, as a mother, as well as a school director, I know the responsibility is to create in our families and schools environments in which children know that, when they are not alright, they have a “safety” adult.
An adult they trust, right? At least one?
Yes, at least one adult. Studies say that at least one “safety” adult is needed in a child’s life in order for the child to grow up and become a trusting adult. And so I implemented many transformations in Transylvania College, in my life and my family’s lives, but I realised it’s not enough for a single school to change. That is how working with public schools and The School of Trust process began. In this moment, the process is a way of life. It is a life worth living, a life built around trust, a life you feel in school, at your workplace, and in your family.
A dictionary definition for The School of Trust?
It is an alternative model to a public school, a model based on a few important principles. We focus constantly on four areas: academic, wellbeing, leadership and global education. At the moment, there are 103 public schools in the country involved in the process, and another 350 on the waiting list.
You spoke about a moment in which Transylvania College (TC) started going through several transformations. I know this has to do with a process of wellbeing that has been implemented for several years at TC. In short, what is the impact of wellbeing in education? What about in the family??
Studies have shown that academic results are directly related to how children feel at school and the relationship they have with adults in the school. If you don’t feel safe, meaning you’re afraid of the fact that your teacher will punish, criticise, judge or shame you, you will consume too much energy and it will be very difficult for you to concentrate on retaining information or learning. And so the impact of teachers’ wellbeing is directly proportional with the impact of children’s wellbeing.
In other words, if teachers are doing well, children are doing well. And if parents are doing well...
Then children will be doing even better. Again, children need an adult at home and an adult at school who they can trust in order to be alright and in order for us to normalise our expectations.
So what you’re saying is that not everyone can be alright at the same time, and we don’t expect for everyone to trust and support everyone.
No, and that’s not what this is about! It’s not about our son or daughter getting along with all their teachers. But about them having one teacher who is there for them when things get rough!
We spoke about the impact of wellbeing in school and the importance of adults’ wellbeing for children. Tell me more about wellbeing in your personal life.
I would start with the present, and the fact that I recently went through the most stressful time in my professional life. It was an enormous help to have all these tools and resources at my disposal: the relationship with my thoughts (I believe I will succeed or I believe I will fail?), with my emotions (to understand that fear and shame are healthy and welcome, but I don’t act on them), the impact others have in my life, my relationship with loved ones (for example, my relationship with my husband, which gave me resources, because I also dedicated time to it). Another essential resource for me during this period was sleep. I learned to prioritise it, because if sleep is not good, nor food, and our thoughts and emotions overwhelm us, we can end up in a very difficult state of mind. This is the relationship with part of what I understand through wellbeing.
Where did the need to implement a wellbeing process at Transylvania College come from, all those years ago? What was the situation like back then?
At that time, I was searching for something new for the school I was leading (and am still leading), because I felt like things had to change. I saw a lot of unhappiness, lack of taking responsibility, and lack of collaboration. That’s when someone gave me “The Leader in Me” book by Stephen Covey to read.Actually, this book found me, I didn’t find it! And so I started “The 7 habits of highly effective people” process at Transylvania College, a process which helped me clarify what I want from my life and daily practices to care for myself and others. That was a turning point. The second turning point was tha, even though we were in full transformation with the 7 habits, one of my daughters still wasn’t alright at school. And not only that, but we were always those parents brought to school because something was the matter with her. That something turned out to be something she couldn’t change, but everybody (including us) blamed her for. She is a very energetic child, and teachers (but also we, the parents) looked for external factors, that it might be dyslexia, dysgraphia, her eyes, or something psychological. Until we realised it was none of those things, just the adults around her. (Smiles) And then we realised that we, as adults, should be the ones to start the transformation process and take responsibility, not her. This was the second turning point, when I began to discover the world of wellbeing, which I didn’t know until then.
This seems to have changed everything.
Yes, pretty much everything. I feel like I’ve found my calling in life.
Now that we’ve defined the context, we can return to the main topic of our discussion: The Summit of Trust. Let’s start by giving a few details to those who are interested.
The summit is another dream come true. It is free, it will take place online, you need to register in order to participate.We brought together all the components I consider to be important in the life of someone like me. Therefore, we have 5 subjects: trust in the family, at the workplace, self-trust, trust in the couple and trust at school. These are the big themes. After we set those out, I made a list of the top 100 people I would interview if I could. People I’ve read and whose work I’ve used in my life from all perspectives. We wrote to them and asked if they would like to offer us 30-40 minutes of their time for free to do an interview, for some people in Romania who want to do things differently. We knew it would go well, but not how well! To the team’s and my surprise, many said yes, even though the majority didn't know us. We therefore ended up with 29 experts (22 international experts and 7 Romanians).
Were you the one to interview them?
Yes, I recorded these interviews, and everyone who registers will be able to see them. It’s amazing to be able to offer such valuable content for free.
After the summit, if anyone has missed the interviews or wants to rewatch them, they have the possibility to purchase the recordings. The majority of this revenue will go to the cause I support, The School of Trust process.
Roughly how long does an interview last?
Initially, we planned for half an hour, but the speakers were very generous and there are longer interviews as well. It’s also worth mentioning that interviews with foreign experts will have Romanian subtitles.
What did you talk about? Can you give me a few examples?
For example, I interviewed a couple who are psychotherapists and have been working together for 40 years, and one of my questions was how they managed to make it together for so many years. With others I spoke about the head of school role in a new school, what they should do and where they should start. What should I do as a teacher if I have several difficult families in my class? I talked about pretty much everything: parents’ fears, how to organise myself in a hybrid environment and how to organise a company in a hybrid environment, varied questions on romantic relationships, what a healthy couple means and what it looks like, how much time to dedicate to my partner in a week, what I should do if my partner doesn’t want to change, what a healthy relationship with a therapist looks like and how I know it’s working.
If I don’t have children, could anything in this summit be of interest to me?
Yes, you have at least three days which could be addressed to you. I’m talking about the themes: trust in the workplace, trust in the couple, and self-trust. If you also work in a school there;s a fourth, and trust in the family could be a theme for everyone, because we each belong to a family.
Is the summit also dedicated to adolescents?
I think the day on self-trust is valuable for everyone, that’s how we planned it. Trust in the couple could also interest them. I think it helps to understand from adolescence what a healthy couple looks like. Trust at school could interest many young people as well.
Can you give me a few examples of experts you invited?
Yes. For example, we have Daniel Shapiro, who leads the negotiation department at Harvard. He will be coming on the day of trust at work and explaining what we can do to bring our emotions with us in a negotiation. Then there is Paul Gilbert, a famous British researcher on compassion. Another example is Rick Hanson, an American expert amongst the first specialists to create wellbeing programs.
And a few examples of experts from Romania?
For example, the interview with Urania Cremene (parenting expert) delighted me, because she spoke about the relationship with your children’s grandparents and brings in expertise from meeting so many parents in Romania. I also had a fascinating interview with Nadia Gorduza, couples expert. She works with many couples from abroad using the Gottman method. She explained very nicely and visually the components of a couple and where we are as Romanians. She gave me an example: in the Gottman method, a couple is built on two pillars: trust and commitment. Well, a couple in Romania is built on two different pillars: children and… what do you think?
Money, I’m guessing.
Yes, credit. Children and credit. What are the reasons you stay in a couple? Because you have children and because you took out a loan over 30 years. If couples don’t divorce “during adolescence” (12 years), they sort out some of their credits and then think of divorce.
What were these interviews like for you?
I interviewed 29 experts for the summit. It was exceptional. First of all, I learned so much. I got something to put into practice or write down after each and every interview, and I actually can’t wait to rewatch the interviews too. Second of all, the generosity and unconditional trust of these people is just wow. There were people who didn’t ask for any proof, they just said yes when I asked them to participate. Even though some initially said they would participate, but their fee is $50.000 per hour, we explained to them that it’s for a good cause, The School of Trust, That’s when most changed their mind, said that they understand it’s for education and agreed to participate without being paid. As I was saying earlier, it is a great joy to be able to offer so much free valuable content as part of the summit.
Were there people who said no?
There were some, but too few. Very many said yes, which is the reason we ended up with more interviews that we originally had planned.
So it’s good to try when you have an idea that might seem crazy. To have trust. Even though your first thought might be “there’s no way”.
Exactly. I also interviewed the people who inspired us with the summit. I’m talking about the Americans Cecilia and Jason Hilkey. They organise Happily Family, a parenting summit. And when I interviewed them they said they are fascinated by what is happening here, that they can’t believe it. Because they normally have two-three well known experts attending their summit, from let’s say 25, and for us it’s all of them.
How do they explain this?
Because we have a cause behind the summit, which is The School of Trust, this process of transforming schools. And this makes us responsible, but it also shows us that, look!, when they know how high the stakes are, people say “yes” with generosity and trust.
What is your overview now, before the summit?
First of all, I am very grateful to the two people who worked on the summit for the past months. These are Alexandra Chihaia and Mihai Zoican.
Just a quick look “behind the scenes”: how many people organised the summit?
First of all, Alexandra, who I mentioned earlier, plus my time (a few dozen hours of interviews), plus Mihai’s help, who at the moment is making sure all the interviews are ready for the summit.
Do you have anything else to add about the summit?
Yes: trust is practiced, and things are not black and white.We practice self-trust, we allow ourselves to dream, and then - to do something. Then we practice trust in others, and they, in turn, practice trust in us. I would also like to say that, oftentimes, the more experiences we have, whether it’s a summit, a book, a course, a meeting, the more opportunities we have to lead a good and trusting life. I encourage people to register, to participate in The Summit of Trust, to understand the components of trust, how they can be practiced and then to see what they can apply in their lives. And even if they don’t learn anything new, it’s still a big plus, because it will serve as a confirmation that what they know and do is right. Sometimes you need to hear something for the fourth time in order to say: “Ahaaaaa! I've heard this before, OK! It means it must be true!”. What I want is for as many participants as possible to have these “Ahaaaaa!” moments.
We cannot conclude a conversation about trust without reminding of its importance in Romanian society. We are still in the middle of a pandemic and I don’t think we’d be generalising by saying that many Romanian people don’t want to get vaccinated because they don’t trust. How would you explain it?
This is who we are and it’s finally visible. We now have a mirror, but it’s only for the ones who want to look at it. It is a mirror that presents us in comparison with the other countries, where the level of social trust is clearly high, in which you trust doctors, friends, family, and even strangers. “OK, I don’t know, but I trust that others who are specialists in this field are making the right decisions, and I will do my part”. Now you can see where we are and this is not a failure of the vaccination campaign, nor the political class. It is a failure of the way we choose whether or not to have trust. There are countries which have gotten vaccinated on a massive scale and don’t even consider COVID-19 an illness, and we are at 30%. Nicely done!
And we recently found out that we could even become a case study starting from these low vaccination rates, right?
Yes… I would say a case study for mistrust.
INTERVIEW CARRIED OUT BY LAVINIA BĂLULESCU AND TRANSLATED BY ALEXANDRA CHIHAIA
In order to participate in the summit you need to register HERE.
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