Believing and Other Reverse Truths

By David Krueger, M.D.

I threw each of my small children into the air, knowing gravity would send them back; they were confident I would be there to catch them. Each toss of this exciting game of catch was a few grains of sand and concrete in the foundation of a feeling later to be called trust. Would those early breathless and exciting vertical excursions make their later horizontal excursions away from me into the next room, later into the outside world, more tolerable? Exactly what would create that safe home base that allows departures from it to be free and unencumbered?

While my children’s adolescence has cured me of most of my theories, a few fundamental ones have survived, and are even more boldly illuminated against the backdrop of passing years.

One of these survivors I call the principle of reverse truths. In traditional science, truth is arrived at by proffering a hypothesis, then accumulating data to prove or disprove it. The data forces the conclusion. Reverse truths work the opposite – the hypothesis or belief creates the data. Our assumptions select what we perceive of the world and determine what meaning we attach to our perceptions. Believing is necessary in order to see. Astute parents have known this principle for generations, just as we interpret the poignant message in hearing our own child’s voice calling us from a sea of noise. Even science now acknowledges that the data collected often depends on who asks the questions.

The most vital reverse truth in our lives is our belief in our children. They look to us as a mirror of who they are, and they become what they see. If we trust and respect them, they become trustworthy and respect themselves.

Some parents have this reverse truth backwards, thinking that they will trust a child only after he or she has proven to be trustworthy. There are frontward truths, but this isn’t one of them. Our belief in our children is taken in by them and metabolized into their own belief in themselves. We convey to them in an unspoken message: “I’ll believe in you until both of us can.”

When that affirmation isn’t there, confidence becomes elusive, and they may spend their lives searching for validation from others.

Carlyle was right. “Tell a man he is brave and you help him to become so.” As a parent, the trick is that you have to believe what you say, for feigned praise and inauthentic interest are forgeries immediately discernible to a child’s expert eye. I see this reverse truth professionally as well. I have to believe in clients so that they can believe in themselves – then they can teach us both why.

Our awareness of ourselves as parents is quite important, because our children tell our story – how we, their parents, are – through their lives. Our children sometimes teach us what we never wanted to learn, and answer questions we never thought to ask. Their fundamental need is to look into the mirror of our belief in them.

A corollary of believing in my children was to believe their words, their truthfulness. When both my children were very young, I told them that I would never lie to them and would always believe everything they told me, knowing the responsibility that placed on them to always tell the truth. When it was time to be serious in the usual maelstrom of kidding or joking, one of them may say to me, “Dad, you’ve never lied to me before, tell me if you’re teasing about this.”

On my son’s last Father’s Day before leaving home and starting college, I found a letter from him at my bathroom sink. A passage in it addressed his perception of this reverse truth: “You never lied to me, and I have never lied to you.” Sounded stupid at first, but as time passed it became more important and I realized that I never would. This is a relationship few others have ever had.”

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