Trust - it “Floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee”


When I was around 19 and at University, Muhammed Ali was in his prime as Boxing’s World Heavyweight Champion. Ali gave a speech at the London School of Economics where I was studying. He came on stage to a thunderous applause. He was an outsider like the rebellious reputation of LSE at the time ( circa 1972).

I remember his immense personality filled the auditorium. I also remember his boast, as he was in London for a fight and his world-famous tag line claim was “trust me I will win while I float like a butterfly and sting like a bee”.

He was a memorable legend and today remembered fondly. At the time however he was loved by some and detested by others. If you don’t recall go back and look at Ali and the Vietnam War. Put another way, people of younger generations, those baby boomers at University like me, absorbed and loved his capacity to stand up for what he believed in, while older generations had a far less favorable view of Ali.

Flash forward almost 50 years and with 5 generations working in our society, differences in opinions and perspectives are still present between the generations. Trust is what binds a relationship together and the lack of it or mistrust pulls it apart. Trust is fragile and as we no doubt have all found out, trust can be broken so easily. Harking back to Ali, trust can resemble his tag line- it floats like a butterfly when present and stings like a bee when broken.

So the lesson I learnt in my life is that no matter what stage you are in as an adult, working to establish, build and maintain trust is required work, especially to build bridges between generations. This is as true within a family as it is in the workplace.

When your values, opinions, perspectives , fears and aspirations are not aligned as either those of your own generation or more common with other generations, you can either shut down the work to build or maintain trust , creating mistrust and poor relationships or work to build the trust. I prefer the latter and have found this most effective for me in my career.

So the question each reader has to ask , when faced with issues presented by different generations, do you reach out and build the relationship by seeking to understand before being understood or not? For more information about trust read my article on this subject by clicking here.

I believe that many issues within a family or an organization emanate from misunderstanding or a lack of understanding of people’s fears, insecurities and aspirations, especially as it relates to older and younger generations e.g. Baby Boomers and Gen Xers versus Millennials and Gen Z. For more on this see my jointly authored article - click here.

So the next time you feel adrift from a different generation, lacking an understanding or comprehension of certain habits or desires, think of the consequences of not building trust through probing questions, active listening and creating bridges to work or socialize in a more collaborative, social and empathetic way.

If this is not your cup of tea, then reflect on my association of Muhammed Ali and trust. Trust is key to intergenerational relationships and the engine that binds all relationships , or to quote Ali and apply it to trust it can “ float like a butterfly or sting like a bee”.

Dr. Andrew S. Kane