Valid vs True

There I was, in the second year of a leadership program. I was the coach for the team statistician, a position I held over a year prior.

“Steve, nobody’s responding to my Slack requests,” she complained.

“Ok, I got that. Let’s take a look. How many people are on your team?”


“Now let’s take a look at Slack. How many people have responded so far?”
We took a minute to count.

“Ok, so there are 29 of 32 people responding. Is that still ‘nobody’?”
She sighed.

“I get that you feel like nobody is responding. But do you see that it’s not true?”
She nodded.

That was the instant she understood the difference between “valid” and “true.” She was able to let go of the significance of her feeling frustrated, and let it be just that: a feeling, rather than a truth about reality. Let’s take a closer look.

“In logic, truth is a property of statements, i.e. premises and conclusions, whereas validity is a property of the argument itself.”
[Wikibooks: Intro to Philosophy]

Things that are valid:

  • Feeling a certain way
  • Being angry, frustrated, annoyed…
  • Being excited, anxious, eager…
  • Liking or not liking someone or something…
  • Having a certain interpretation or judgment
    • Note: The word “judgment” tends to have a negative connotation, but these kinds of judgments can be useful, particularly when it comes to survival. The key is to notice when judgments are out of place.

Things that are true are:

  • Supported by analysis; objective;
  • Cannot be argued.

I realize that talking about objective truth can sound cold and unfeeling. After all, there is the phrase “the cold hard truth.” It’s a common misinterpretation when I ask clients to distinguish what is true, that they have to invalidate their own feelings; that for some reason they’re not allowed to feel a certain way if it’s unsupported by facts. Let me be clear about this:

Your feelings are both valid and true, always.

The key is understanding their place and relationship with reality so they don’t spill over into places they don’t really belong. Let me modify the above statement: Your feelings are both valid and true, as feelings. Your projections and interpretations are valid but not necessarily true. Here’s the difference:

“I feel annoyed.”
Valid and true. You are having the feeling of “being annoyed,” presuming you’re telling the truth. Nobody can really argue with this.

“He’s annoying.”
Valid as an interpretation, but not true. Unless you’re describing a physical attribute (height, hair color, etc), anything else cannot objectively be stated as true. There is even an argument that physical attributes are also interpretations, but that’s going deeper into philosophy and theories of perception than we need to for this blog.

You don’t need to suppress your feelings or invalidate your experience in order to distinguish it as not true. You can have your feelings and know the truth at the same time. A really simple example of this for me is taking cough medicine. It tastes terrible. I really don’t like it, but I know it works. I can have my feelings of not liking the medicine and still take it. Those two things don’t contradict each other.

The ability to distinguish validity from truth can make the difference between destroying a relationship or deepening one. This is particularly useful where your commitment is strong, like with spouses, children, or parents. There will be times when you really just don’t want to be around them, when their presence just annoys or angers or frustrates you. But there will be something else calling you to keep moving forward, and you will take the actions of someone committed to the relationship regardless of how you momentarily feel about it.

Take the actions of love, even when you don’t feel like it.

Reader reflection

  • Is there something you’re holding on to that might be a projection or interpretation?
  • Do you see parts that are valid, while others are true?
  • If you could take only what’s true, and still value the parts that are valid, what difference would that make?
  • Are there any new actions to take from realizing this?

Please tell me, I’d love to know!
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