3 Great Untruths and How to Counter Them

  by Andrew Wolgemuth

I recently read and enjoyed Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt’s The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure (and already wrote about one aspect of the book), a book that begins as an exposé (of sorts) about current troubling trends on American college campuses before tracing those trends back to…parenting. Not what I expected, but convicting and challenging nonetheless.

Core to the book and its challenges to me as a reader are what the authors call the three Great Untruths:

  1. Untruth of Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker (retreat from hardship and difference)
  2. Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings (emotional intuition trumps reason and truth)
  3. Untruth of Us versus Them: Life is a battle between good people and bad people (I am good; they are bad)

Lukianoff and Haidt describe the rise of these untruths effectively, and they make the dire consequences of these ideas starkly clear. Their research is deep, and their suggested corrections and evasive maneuvers are well worth considering. I highly recommend the book, and I can’t possibly do it justice here…but, regardless, I think it worthwhile to note some quick implications for our dadcraft.

The Untruth of Fragility

Countering this idea doesn’t, of course, require believing that all hardship and trials are beneficial for our kids. But we do need to shift our thinking to be more in line with how our physical muscles become stronger: by exhaustion, tearing, and then repairing. So too our mental and character muscles (if you will). Consequently, there’s value in struggles and there’s a need to encourage grit (and even allowing temporary confusion).

The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning

Here again, the corrective to the untruth isn’t a pendulum swing to the other side (e.g. always distrust your feelings). Nor are we to aim for Unemotional reasoning. Rather, there’s a healthy middle ground to strive for: pay attention to your emotions, but seek to ground them in reality. Check how you feel and perceive against others’ thoughts and feelings and — most significantly — truth and reality.

The Untruth of Us versus Them

Oh, things are so simple and clear when it’s the Good Guys against the Bad Guys, aren’t they? And especially so when we’re confident that we’re a part of the Good Guys (which partly explains why we’re all cheering against the Patriots these days, right?!). When it’s Us versus Them, anything goes and the ends always justify the means. But it’s rarely that simple. There are plenty of clear-cut good versus bad situations, but there are also plenty more situations that aren’t so clear cut. Where humility is merited because, well, the Bad Guys aren’t actually all bad…and the Good Guys aren’t perfectly good. Kukianoff and Haidt note Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s line that “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human.” How true…even in our homes.

As I read The Coddling of the American Mind and thought about the correctives Lukianoff and Haidt provide for the three Great Untruths, I initially went to the parental implications…and then I realized that the implications best start with me. Whatever I hope to correct in my children’s faulty thinking doesn’t stand much of a chance if I too have accepted Great Untruths. Thus, my thoughts above aren’t so much fathering concepts to implement; they’re more reminders to myself in my on-going attempts to live effectively and in truth. Good dadcraft requires that I first examine myself. And, I hope these reflections are helpful for you too.


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