Monday, April 19, 2010

Building Trust an Experience at a Time

I've never been fond of spiders. While intellectually I may accept that I am a zillion times larger, this hardly outweighs their ability to go into stealth mode as they seek to terrorize unsuspecting victims (namely me).

I have no recollection of a traumatic incident involving a spider. Notwithstanding, while eating lunch at a fine, upstanding dining establishment last week, I felt something on my arm. I looked down just in time to see a medium sized black creature moving toward my lunch trio of boneless buffalo bites, egg rolls and chicken crisps.

This bad boy was no doubt one of the worst of his kind - a carnivorous spider (obvious by the fact that he had designs on both me and my protein-oriented fare). He thought I wouldn't notice? I noticed alright... as did everyone within ear shot.

I quickly flicked him off of me in a manner that made those at the table closest to ours wonder if I was having a seizure.

So, why do I have a freak fit when exposed to spiders? I have no logical answer. But I nonetheless contend that it is an appropriate response given their ferocity.

As I mentioned, I recall no traumatic incidents in either childhood or adulthood. For obvious reasons, I have never watched the movie 'Arachnophobia'... (Can you imagine if I had?!)

Whether learned or innate - it is what it is... when presented with a spider I am no different than a bird having a night fright or one afraid of hands or (fill in the blank)....

One might imagine that living on top of a mountain in the middle of the woods there might be just a few blood-sucking 8-legged, beady-eyed opportunistic arachnoids around. And, that would be correct. I am unable to bring myself to get close enough to even smush them with a kleenex or flush them down the toilet. And, it would seem that if I take an 8 foot shovel to them while they are walking down the hallway, somehow I'm the one with the problem?

I have very few options...

Donning my red slippers and clicking my heels together?

A special phrase such as salagadoola menchicka boola bibbidi-bobbidi-boo?

I wish.... not even upon a star makes them go away.

The only real magic is closing my eyes and yelling one special word... STEVE! By the tone of my voice he knows exactly what I mean and exactly what I expect him to do about it. He is certainly capable of making my world all better again by removing the offending creature. And, I fully expect that he should and will do so immediately if not sooner. The screaming and seizing will stop as soon as he has fulfilled his responsibilities. Make haste!

Whether or not my fears are justified or rational (and, I assure you they are both justified and rational), his response and reaction during each and every experience serves to either gain or lose my trust and confidence. For example:

1. Immediately removing the offending, blood-thirsty creature. - - gains trust.

2. Immediately removing the offending, blood-thirsty creature, while making light of my fears - - loses trust and causes anxiety.

3. Immediately removing the offending, blood-thirsty creature, and while walking past me puts his back to me to shield me, while stating that he understands my concerns, and that I can count on him to address the situation - - gains trust big time.

4. Immediately removing the offending, blood-thirsty creature, but while walking past me to take it outside pretends to throw it at me - - loses trust.

I pause here to add that he has a strict policy of spider relocation. Early on I discovered that we are, apparently, a no-kill spider shelter.

Look, I'll be honest with you - I'm not necessarily on board with the whole spider rescue and relocation project. I'm really not. However, I've not much input on the topic. I've come to accept that if I want him to deal with the spider, I have to play by his rules - and that means appearing to be on board regarding the spider relocation project. Which I'm not. But - I may have mentioned that already?!

An important point here is that given the level of my fear, if even once he pretends to throw it at me, while he has never actually thrown it, even a one-time action would leave me feeling very uncomfortable and anxious. And the next time I will remember that he pretended to throw it at me, and will begin with a certain level of anxiety.

What if he did that one time just to see my reaction? To watch me scream - or find it amusing? You can imagine...

We can think of many other situations where trust and confidence might be either gained or lost.

What seems notable to me is that I cannot imagine a scenario where the trust remains neutral. I bring this up because the topic came up recently on a discussion board. I read a number of statements similar to "I've done nothing to lose my bird's trust."

Naturally, my question is, "but what have you done to gain trust?" Trust is something that we earn, not that should be automatically given because we've never harmed the bird yet.... If I am in a room with a spider for 30 days and it fails to eat me alive, doesn't mean I trust it and am its friend. It means it hasn't bitten me yet!

It is SO easy to inadvertently lose trust... and without thinking it may occur more often than we might predict. It can be something as simple as buying a new toy, noticing that the bird is afraid of it, and then exclaiming,

"Oh sweetie - it's just a little toy! It won't hurt you! Look, it has a bell!" The next thing you know, a companion is bringing the toy closer and closer to the bird.... Imagine if that was my husband's approach with the spider. It would do nothing to change my fears of spiders, but it would do everything to affect my relationship and trust of my husband in that particular situation. What if when we see the bird is reacting to the new toy with hesitation, concern, fear, we move away instead of closer? Or remove the toy from the room? Or take other steps to give the bird a chance to experience the new toy in a manner that will not create anxiety? We can imagine that doing the opposite is a set up for trust to be lost. But the opportunities to gain trust in each and every individual interaction and situation are immense and exciting leading to a better relationship with our birds.

Trust is gained or lost one experience at a time.



louara said...

Yes it is.
Blind trust is one thing we expect our pets to have, don't you think? With a toy for example we expect them to know it won't harm them. When we are taught to trust something we have a better understanding of it.
Using your spider example, I have learnt that having spiders around the outside of my home reduces the population of other insects, such as ants. I was always quick to sqaush spiders the moment I saw them, but when I learnt this I stopped and I haven't seen an ant in the house for two years now. I trust the spiders to do their job.
My budgie has to be taught to trust a new toy. I lay it out in her line of vision, then every day bring it a little bit closer to her and she watches me handle it and play with it myself.
She determines it is not from outer space and will accept it gladly.
Never assuming trust is also a good rule.
Remember Sigfried and Roy.......

Lorac said...

What makes gaining trust with a parrot a challenge is being able to correctly read their body language. I learned a lot from the "What are they saying" articles in Good Bird magazine. My cockatoo and I now have shared trust. My new bird, an Amazon, is once again a challenge for me to understand. We don't yet have mutual trust. I'm learning however, and trying to err on the side of backing off (banking trust) than pushing (withdrawing trust). Human-human trust of the kind you write about is easier to achieve because of a common spoken language.

Robin Cherkas said...

There is certainly no substitute for getting to know one's bird! It sounds like you've made great striders, Lorac. Not having a spoken common language does present more of a challenge, but the shared experiences of gaining trust, as you have done with your cockatoo, quickly create that common language. If I walk down the hallway with my bird on my arm toward a person, and feel the bird tense up on my hand, and then stop or take a step back from that person, I automatically gain trust. Because I have responded to the bird's need to back up a bit, expressed by its tense feet, or other bodily signs that indicated its anxiety level increased when I approached that person. This is one reason I have taught Coco sign language; in the absence of a completely understood spoken language, hand gestures easily and effectively replace many of the things we would have normally communicated through speech.

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