Shawn Bomgardner, an MBA student at Seattle University, has sued the school and the training firm Teams and Leaders Inc. for making him participate in a required leadership class that included various “trust exercises.” In one of them, he was told to submit to a “trust-fall” from bleachers into the arms of his classmates.
They didn’t catch him. He hit his head on the ground, hard, and now has permanent brain damage.
The injuries forced Shawn to drop out of school and quit his job as an auditor for Costco. Bomgardner’s wife has had to take time off work to “undertake additional responsibilities as a result of Shawn’s continued deficits, persistent depressive symptoms and diminished cognitive functioning,” the law suit says, adding that “Shawn’s injuries have caused loss of enjoyment of life and have impacted his relationship with Becky and his daughter. While Shawn’s symptoms have improved over time, he continues to experience the effects of his injuries,” according to the complaint.”
Maybe this tragedy will have one good result: stopping idiotic seminar and retreat trust exercises, especially the “trust-fall.”
Trust isn’t a game. Trust is earned. That’s all there is to it. Putting one’s health and welfare into the hands, literally, of someone you barely know and who is not trained or certified to do what an exercise requires is madness, and any organization that suggests, forces or requires such symbolic but meaningless nonsense should be run right out of business.
It is true: trust is an absolute necessity for any functioning and healthy society, organization or team. Trust, however, cannot exist in a vacuum. It must be supported by experience, competence, dedication, mutual caring, loyalty and good will.
As someone who has refused to partake in trust exercises more than once, I feel terrible about what happened to Shawn Bomgardner. He was the victim of charlatans who taught that something as vital and complex as trust could be taught with stunts and parlor tricks.