In life, we are always meeting new people. Sometimes strangers can become close friends, romantic partners, and support systems for life.
I have often wondered–how does one build trust with a stranger? And what happens when someone is going through their own mental and emotional struggles? How does one reach out in friendship and build trust to create a long-lasting relationship?
I found some answers in the teenage romantic drama All the Bright Places which explores friendship and connection-building in complicated circumstances.
The film tells the story of two high school teenagers, Theodore Finch and Violet Markey, who find companionship and togetherness at a difficult time in their lives.
At the beginning of the story, Violet is grieving the loss of her sister in a car accident. Violet herself survived the accident and lives with survivor’s guilt. She is very vulnerable and cut off from the world.
Theodore has his own battles with his mental health and low will to live.
Over the course of the film, Theodore builds Violet’s trust in him as a friend and partner. He also helps her rebuild her trust in the world and people. Let’s see how he does this.
The story begins with Theodore finding his classmate Violet standing on the ledge of a bridge during his morning run. He hops up onto the ledge next to her and refuses to leave. He silently extends his hand to pull her back and she comes down from the ledge.
And with that, he begins to build trust that becomes the bedrock of their relationship.
But simply building trust with someone new is not enough. One must also stabilize trust.
Theodore calls Violet the next day to check on her. He has found out about her and learned that the car crash that killed her sister took place on the very bridge she was contemplating jumping off. Theodore understands her pain and sorrow. He speaks to Violet with empathy.
Usually, when we need to repair someone’s trust in ourselves, it is because we have broken their trust. But in Violet and Theodore’s case, she has not lost her trust in him, but in something larger. She has lost faith in the world and is struggling to find meaning in everyday activities after losing her sister.
Theodore must repair her trust and help her find comfort in the world and in people again.
You can see elements of the 3 Pillars of repairing trust—Empathy, Logic, and Authenticity—from Harappa’s Establishing Trust course as their relationship evolves.
Theodore is empathetic towards Violet from their very meeting. He focuses his attention on her and makes her feel understood and respected.
He also uses logic to bring down her walls and encourage her to step outside into the world, both figuratively and literally.
In an early interaction, she tells him that maybe she is not ready to get out there yet and does not like people. His authentic and honest response about how people are makes her reconsider and begin her journey back into the world.
Later, Violet and Theodore pair up for a geography project that requires them to wander around Indiana and uncover “natural wonders” off the beaten path.
Violet is still grief-stricken and not ready to interact with other people. She is dismayed about having to work with Theodore, but her teacher rejects her request to do the project on her own.
When we are trying to build trust, it isn’t enough to merely say empathetic and supportive things to the person. We must also demonstrate our care and concern for them through our actions. This is known as stabilizing trust.
Theodore’s willingness to adapt to her needs helps stabilize the trust she has in him.
Violet’s reluctance to work with Theodore on the project is also connected to her fear of traveling in cars. After her sister’s accident, she cannot get inside any car and has taken to walking and cycling around.
Theodore agrees to plan their trips on foot or bicycle for her comfort. They discover the first two places for the project by bike.
As they work on their project to discover the wonders of Indiana, their bond deepens.
They find places like the highest point in the state, a shoe covered-tree, an old rollercoaster, and an inspirational chalk wall display on which anyone can paint their hopes and dreams.
Theodore’s efforts to build Violet’s trust pay off when she agrees to get into a car with him to visit the last place for their project, which is 160 miles away.
To do this, Theodore swears he will not drive faster than 30 miles an hour in town and 50 on the interstate. He assures her that if she wants him to stop the car at any point he will stop.
He tells her that he is a safe driver and has never got a ticket for speeding. When she remains unconvinced, he tells her this is not just about an assignment. It’s about her, and how she has stayed shut in her room and traveled only using a bike and circling the same radius.
By now he has earned her trust, and she agrees to make the trip in the car with him.
The movie ends with Violet completing her journey into healing with help from Theodore’s lessons and support. Even though Theodore was also suffering, he helped her grow, deal with setbacks, and embrace life. He truly showed her that there are so many “bright places” (hence the title).
All this was possible because he earned her trust.
I do suggest the audience exercise caution while watching the film because the ending might be difficult for some. But it’s a great example of building trust and embracing change in life.
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Nainika Seth is an Associate with the Learning Impact Team at Harappa Education. She is a postgraduate in Sport and Exercise Psychology from Loughborough University, United Kingdom. She enjoys baking and photography.
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