Creating Trust-Based Partnerships

" one of us was born with the right to say ‘you must’ or I’ll hurt you, to any animal or to another human."

A few years ago I attended a demonstration by Monty Roberts of his ability to communicate with and form a partnership with a horse. As I search for examples and ideas that can offer solutions to bullying, I am reminded of Monty Roberts, his personal history of being abused, his creation of a new method of partnering with a horse, his leadership in how humans can relate to animals, and his example of raising children without bullying them.

Known as a "horse whisperer," Monty Roberts as a boy was abused by and learned horsemanship from his father, whose then-standard methods of training horses and raising children were brutal and abusive. As a teenager, Roberts observed wild horses and learned how they communicate, and thus learned how to create a trusting partnership with a horse.

“For centuries, humans have said to horses, ‘You do what I tell you or I’ll hurt you.’ Humans still say that to each other–--still threaten, force and intimidate. I’m convinced that my discoveries with horses have value in the workplace, in the educational and penal systems, and in the raising of children. At heart, I’m saying that no one of us was born with the right to say ‘you must’ or I’ll hurt you, to any animal or to another human.”---Monty Roberts

Roberts had a genius for observing the natural language of the horse, enabling him to know what a horse felt and needed. To see Roberts communicating with a horse may change your ideas about horses and about people.

"A good trainer can hear a horse speak to him. A great trainer can hear him whisper."---The Man Who Listens To Horses

Can the method of Monty Roberts---learning the language of the "other"---inspire how we replace bullying with respect and cooperation?

Ibasho, Community for Elderly & Others

As we deal with the rules, regulations, and constraints of public and subsidized housing, we wonder if there might somewhere be another way for people to live together. I have seen happy elderly people who live in subsidized housing that the tenants themselves manage, but such rare cooperative opportunities were created under a long-past HUD program. And I have found a few housing developments where landlord, manager, staff, and residents have developed respectful relationships.

At a webinar discussing how to engage tenants in the design of buildings for social life even in the face of the COVID-19 epidemic, I was introduced to the Ibasho concept by Dr. Emi Kiyota, the founder. As I listened to her and as I viewed the film of the first Ibasho community, created after a tsunami, I was moved to see people like us living and creating a happy, creative community that engaged people of all ages. Could such an idea, or some of the elements, be adapted to our situation? Or is the core of public housing the antithesis of the ibasho concept? Let us explore this together.

Ibasho was born out of the experience of its founder, Dr. Emi Kiyota, who lived with elders in long term care facilities as part of her graduate research. While the staff in these facilities did their best to provide residents with a safe place to live, the elders still experienced feelings of loneliness, boredom, helplessness, and desperation. No one had planned on ending up in a long-term care facility, and no one wanted to live there.

Ibasho means “a place where you can feel like yourself” in Japanese. At Ibasho we believe this is what every person should have as they age – a place to live in safety, comfort and dignity, where he or she is valued as a person full of history and experience.

I suggest watching this film, Elders Leading Resilience, for an understanding of the concept in action. Then I urge you to go ahead and explore the Ibasho website,

Kiyota tells about her vision of empowering elderly people to have meaning and purpose in their lives, and not be constrained to being passive recipients of entertainment and services.

The ibasho concept has led to communities recovering from disaster not only in Japan, but in Nepal and the Philippines. We are facing another disaster here, the pandemic which has decimated the elderly population in nursing homes and threatened assisted living, and the many of us living in public and subsidized housing. Can the Ibasho idea somehow be an opportunity for us to come together during the COVID-19 pandemic and help our neighbors and members of our community be more resilient, and for us to have meaning and purpose again.

The challenges that I see include the need to overcome and prevent bullying and mobbing, because these activities destroy trust and prevent the emergence of community. Another challenge is the cultural imperative to constantly disparage others and glorify our own group. And the essential nature of creating an Ibasho concept is similar to the skills of a good social worker or community organizer---listening and empowering people to reach their own decisions, goals, and consensus. And perhaps the most difficult challenge, at least in the United States, is how to reconcile the tendency to expand the desire for “a place where you can feel like yourself” into an attempt to impose our own values on everyone else. The essential problem of the tension between the individual and the community.  Each of these challenges, with rare exceptions, seems to be an inherent part of traditional public and subsidized housing.

If you have questions or ideas about the Ibasho concept and the relevance to our situation, please share them. Let's start a dialogue.