Diversity and PreValidation: The Essay

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Diversity and Pre-Validation
“The Two Icebergs”

© Al Turtle 2003
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PreValidation:  The attitude of awareness that anyone you meet, no matter what they are doing, makes sense before they open their mouths to tell you about it.  PreValidation is also the actions of communicating that attitude.  A learned posture of contentment with another person’s differing point of view.  A foundation of the skill of Empathy.

Pre-Invalidation: The posture of persuasion, based on the internal assumption that others don’t make sense, or that they don’t make sense unless you approve of it. The attitude of believing that you know what is what and what is going on. This is the “home of facticity.”

Teaching Pre-Validation.

You might want to look at the full chart while reading further.  (Click here for a larger chart.)


I like to think of each of us using the metaphor of an iceberg floating in the ocean. Take a look at one iceberg.  Part of it is visible, but most is invisible.  As you look at the visible part, your mind remembers that there is a whole lot of ice below the surface.  You know that every molecule of ice above the surface, is supported by all those molecules that are below the surface.  Still all that other people can see of us is what is on top.  I can see your behavior, and hear your words, but I can’t see why you do that or why you say that.  Your “sense” is largely invisible to me. It is always there, but below the surface.

A Story: One morning in the summer, we were giving a breakfast party to some guests on our back porch.  A woman was sitting, after eating, holding a cup of coffee in her hand.  Suddenly she threw the coffee in the air, leaped up, screamed, and ran across the porch.  She stood shaking.  Everyone could see what she did.  But her sense was invisible. I, being host, asked her, “Wow, what happened?”  She almost yelled, “Didn’t you see that bee?”  Now, I had seen a yellow jacket on the arm of her chair.  I had seen it there for some minutes, but until now I had not known that it was involved in her behavior.  (This was an example of part of her logic that was above the water line.)  I then asked her gently, “So what does a bee have to do with it?”  She replied, “I am deathly allergic to bee stings!”  I felt a dawning sense of  understanding or “Oh, I see.”

This information was not above the water line.  It was part of her story, but I could not see it unless she shared it.  She then went on to tell me more about her reactions to bee stings.  Finally she said, “When I get a bee sting, my throat closes and I cannot breathe.  If I do not get medical care in a couple of minutes, I may die.  Thus, I always carry an Anaphylactic Kit with me to give myself a shot of epinephrine.  And I just realized that I left it at home this morning!”  At this point, I had a rushing sense of awareness and said, “Ah, I see.”  I understood her behavior.  I could see its sense, her congruity.

A Story, continued:  She went further.  “The first time I was stung, I was five and I lived in the town of Wenatchee, Washington.  I don’t recall the sting.  What I recall was the room blurring and becoming all white, my mother running back and forth in front of me yelling, and my dad hitting my chest.  The next thing I knew I was in a hospital bed looking out a window at a city bigger and taller than I had ever seen in my life.”   She told me that her dad had been trying to help her breathe by hitting her chest.  They got her to a local hospital, but fearing that she had brain damage from lack of breathing, they flew her in a small plane to a childrens hospital in Seattle – and there she didn’t see anyone she knew for seven days.   Her parents could not afford the drive and stay in the city until they picked her up.  And she had no brain damage!

This woman was remarkably helpful in sharing the components of her sense.  When I ask people, “Why did you say or do that”  at first people may tell me things, the meanings of their words, the lessons in their lives, their history, and their thinking.

First Wall/Layer: However, after a bit they may stop at the first barrier – what I call the Layer or Wall of Privacy.  Below this line are things that they know about, but do not want to share.  This barrier is under their control and moves up and down in your Iceberg depending on the circumstances.  When they are feeling safe, they may really “open up.”  When they are feeling cautious, the Wall of Privacy may be very high in their Iceberg.  “When the tax collector shows up at the door, they may not even remember their name!”  Whatever the reason, unless they tell me, I will not be able to see their sense.  It does not mean that their sense is not present, just that I will not see it unless they tell me.

Second Wall/Layer: For a moment, let’s go deeper and assume they are willing to tell me anything they can about themselves.  Now, as they share more of the components of their sense, they will run into another wall – what I call the Wall of the Unconscious or Wall of the Unknown.  What is down there, below that wall?  All the answers to their own unanswered questions of “Why do I do that?”   This is all the stuff that moves and drives them, upsets or entertains them, and that they don’t know about.  This is the unknown part of them – of you.  Some people call this the Shadow.  Some people call this the Denied Self.  But, the bottom line is that people don’t know what this stuff is.  And yet, this stuff, these factors, are part of their “sense.”  I can’t really understand their sense fully unless they know this stuff and tell me.   Down there is your history, your life as a little kid, experiences with your mom and your dad.

This view of a person’s interior permits two useful definitions.

Sense: The components of a person’s self that lead them to do or say what they do or say.  The elements of their integrity, with which they are always congruent.

Please note that this definition of Sense is clearly opposed to the common, and I believe symbiotic, view that “there exists” such a thing as “sense” or “common sense.”  This seems to me a critical point of difference between symbiotic thinking and Dialogical thinking.  See my paper on Master/Slave for further details.

Understand: A felt sense of surprise when one sees enough of the components of another’s sense to grasp their congruency.  A kind of “Ah hah,” or “Oh!, I see.”  I have the image that understanding is the sound of thick wooden puzzle pieces clicking into place.

Once you see this iceberg metaphor, you will probably realize that people are not capable of doing something that is not a result of all those molecules, all those components, in their iceberg.  People are not capable of doing something that is not a result of all their stuff.


So now, let’s put you together.  If I add

  1. the parts of you that you don’t know about, to the
  2. parts of you that you want to keep hidden from others, and to the
  3. parts of you that you are willing to share, and to the
  4. parts of you that others can see anyway, I can make a remarkable statement.  You always make sense.  Even if some of the components of your sense are out of your own sight (unconscious), you always are congruent.  Every act, every word out of your mouth makes sense, and is the sum result of the components within you at that moment.  You always make sense.

And one more thing.  What I have shared perhaps may take you to a new place in life, in relationships.  (It seems to do this for almost everyone who enters my office.)  You can understand anyone – for the rest of your life, with two conditions:  a) they must tell you and b) you must listen.   “Telling” and “Listening” I have taught you through Mirroring.  Now, I have taught you “Understanding.”

Now lets look at a full picture with two icebergs – a relationship.  Over here is your partner.  They have the same structure: visible part, privacy wall, unconscious stuff, etc.  They also always make sense – within themselves.  They, too, are always congruent with their components.  So we can arrive at a wonderful conclusion.  “All people make sense all the time.” It cannot be otherwise.  The question is not whether your partner makes sense.  The question is whether you can see or hear the sense they are making.


“Don’t make Sense?”

Probably you have heard someone say, “You don’t make sense!”  You might have said this yourself.  What does this sentence mean? Well, I have found three meanings for the phrase, “You don’t make sense.”

#1.  I could say “you don’t make sense” when I mean, “I don’t see the sense you ARE MAKING, yet.”  It might be more polite to say that than say “you don’t make any.”  But, that is one meaning of the phrase.

#2. I could say “You don’t make sense” when I mean “I don’t like your sense.”   I hear married partners say that often, when I hear that one wants to divorce and the other says, “He/She doesn’t make any sense.”

Now I want you to understand that at this point in life I don’t like Osama Bin Laden’s sense.  But that doesn’t have any effect on whether he makes sense.  He’s over in Afghanistan somewhere, I’m (at the time of writing this essay) in Northern Idaho and I doubt I have any effect on him or whether he makes sense.

To go a bit further, I believe that all the criminal detectives in the world (all 80,000 of them) know something that the average person doesn’t know.  They know that all the criminals make sense doing what they are doing, committing the crimes they are committing.  Average citizens can afford the foolishness of saying that criminals make no sense.  Detectives can’t afford that sillyness.  Their job is to catch these people.  To do that they have to predict where their quarry will be, next.  If the detectives can figure out the logic, the sense of that suspect, they can predict where they will be next — and catch ‘em.   Note that the detectives don’t have to like the criminal’s sense to understand it, nor does their understanding of the criminal’s sense stop them from arresting them.

#3. People often say (and this is just silly) “You don’t make sense” because “you don’t make my sense.”   Well, I want to tell you that a person never makes anyone elses sense.  They always make their own. Look at the icebergs.  There isn’t a single molecule of ice in one berg that is also in the other.  No one ever, exactly, makes someone elses sense.  They always make their own.  So wonderful second conclusion is that “two people never make exactly the same sense, ever.”  At some level of detail, people never really agree on anything.

Summary of “Understanding”

Lesson #1: people always make sense in what they do, whether they can tell you, or have yet gotten around to telling you.

Definition: To Understand is to see the sense of the other.  For me, understanding is kind of a small surprise event when I get some data and go, “Oh… I see.”  There were at least three understanding (surprise) events in the story: “allergic to bee stings”, “left kit at home”, “taken to hospital away from my parents.”

Lesson #2: Since people always make sense, you can always understand them, if a) they will speak to you and b) you will listen.

Lesson #3: Listening to a person talk is like looking into their world, their validity – their sense.  Since they always make sense, when you listen you journey into that sense of theirs.   


But most people want to “feel understood.”   To make this happen, it is not enough to understand and say so.  My parents often said, “We understand you perfectly!” at times when I was sure they didn’t have the vaguest idea what was going on in me.  To make a person feel understood, you must do something I call Validation.

Definition:  Validation is really anything you do that makes them feel understood. To Validate is to act or speak out loud, to bear witness, showing that you have the sense of another person.

Sandra, my wife, seems brilliant me in Validating people without using words.  She was on the backporch when that woman fled the bee.  This is what Sandra did to Validate her.  When the woman lept up and ran across the back porch, Sandra moved close to her.   When the woman said she was deadly allergic to bees, (1st Validation) Sandra took her hand, led her into the house, and loudly closed the screen door.  When the woman said she had left her life saving kit at home, (2nd Validation) Sandra went over to her desk, opened a drawer, took out an Anaphylactic Kit, put it in the woman’s hand and closed the woman’s fingers over the kit.  When the woman spoke of her 5–year-old experience in Wenatchee, (3rd Validation) Sandra said, “I my gosh!” and that was all.  But that did it, three times.

The more formal method of Validation uses the spoken word.  As in church or in court, I speak the words of their sense, out loud.  I say, “Oh, I see why you jumped up and ran across the porch.  You are deathly allergic to bee stings, had forgotten you epinephrine kit, and have terrible memories of your first sting. Did I get that,” it works.  When I say this out loud, I am validating, and when the person says, “Yes, you got me,” they are feeling understood.   This is a critically useful skill.  People will give up almost any “bad” behavior if instead they will feel understood.   And… you can always Validate anyone if a) they tell you their sense and b) you listen.  Agreement Note that I have not ever talked about “agreement”.  Agreement has nothing to do with understanding or validation.  I don’t have to fear bees to understand or validate the behavior of this woman.  All I have to do is see it from her point of view (while knowing mine is different).  I think it is useful to just accept that two people never agree on anything – though sometimes they may come close.  The question is never whether your partner makes sense.  The question is whether you can see or hear the sense they are making.  Once you understand this, I believe you move on to the wonderful skill I call PreValidation. 



Definition: The awareness that anyone you meet, no matter what they are doing, makes sense before they open their mouths to share it with you.  A learned posture of contentment with another person’s differing point view.  I think PreValidation is also any act that displays this awareness. Pre-Invalidation: The posture of persuasion, based on the internal assumption that others don’t make sense.  The home of “facticity.”  (See my papers on Master/Slave  and  MasterTalk.)

When you think your partner is doing something “odd,” the situation is that you are uninformed about the sense they are making.  If you were informed, you would not think their behavior odd.  The word “odd” in this usage is one of those misleading words.  When I see my partner as “odd,” it is normal to focus on them, when the real problem is in me.  I repeat, “When I think you are odd, it means I am un-informed.”    The observer requests an appointment using a phrase such as, “When you did that (mention the action you saw, not your interpretation of it) I know it made sense to you (PreValidation), but it seemed odd to me or I didn’t understand what was going on for you.  Could I make an appointment so that you can help me understand you?”

So try this exercise frequently, what I call the Odd Dialogue.  Then listen and see if you are not led to an awareness of those two conclusions: “all people make sense all the time” and “two people never make the exact same sense, ever.” When you do this exercise, you are practicing PreValidation.


Diversity and PreValidation: The Essay — 4 Comments

  1. Dear Al, what a wonderful tool you teach. I really appreciate that you put it in such good analogy as a icebergs. It makes sense!
    I have been trying to understand the” sense” my ex husband’s (and my own!) ever since he left seven years ago. We were married for 20 years then. I am not sure what kind of clingers/avoiders we were, but he often lived by himself, traveled a lot. It seems to me that I am an avoiding clinger. – I am very much content by myself as long as I have secure knowledge that my relationships are safe and stable ( I guess I am willing to take lie as long as oi a assured that everything is intact). After the divorce I learned that my ex was having all kind of affairs and fun, whereas I was working hard on my exams, degree and career to make sure that our family will be together and better of. I moved to the US with our child and he stood behind in our old country. He moved here eventually, but he lived in the different city and commuted every weekend. He assure me that he wants to be with me. We divorced after I moved with him. The end of marriage was due an affair with the woman 25 years younger than him, who has no desire to work, but she encourages him to work very hard. He is terrified to lose her and clings to her like mad! He was clinging to me in the past from time to time, but not too much. I do not act as a clinger until the real danger of losing relationships. Than I really get in terrific panic. You see, my mother abandoned me when I was less than year old. I have the spence of fear of abandonment that is far beyond the “normal” sense. It is like animalistic terror and I do lose control no matter what insight I have.
    My ex husband was also abandoned by his mother, but in different way: she left him in the hospital when he was six for a two years, but she was visiting him from time to time. He was in a full body cast and each visit was a horrific scene when he was begging her not to live and she lied and was leaving anyway. She an his father moved from the city where they left their son. Eventually the cast was taken away, they got their son back, but he seemed never recovered from it well. the whole thing and relationships in the family were revolving around ” but we had to move because my husband had a job”. She was not a little obedient housewife – she was a pediatrician! I am writing it as short as I can, it make no sense not because I am omitting details etc. they had never talked about it, never had any doubts that they did something wrong, always labeled their son as an “odd” and a loser….
    Anyways, when my husband was leaving he accused me that i restrain and confine him. It was true as he lived alone before i came and when i moved in it was very little space for both of us. He clearly treated me like I was his mother, but I am not! I have very little resemblance with her, except perhaps that I am pediatrician too and i was recovering from the surgery ( she was a doctor and as long as I know her she is always ill, but not quite as she can rise from her il bed in a minute if an opportunity to travel or theater, or shopping or anything fun comes up). Amazingly, his new wife is seems to me a very similar to his mother, but not in a surface, rather in essence of personality.
    I feel very sad about all this development and cannot recover well. Feel very traumatized, though I am alive and fairly well. Inside is such a pain. Perhaps I shouldn’t bother you with all this, but since I wrote such a long story, so be it…

    • Well, Alla, I can see a little into the story you tell, and I have fun trying to see the sense of all the people in it. My dad was a pediatrician, too. Small world. Thanks to his difficulties and my mom’s, I had a lot to learn, too. I imagine that the problem of Clinger/Avoider is important, but a bigger one is about lack of intimacy. Sounds as if a lot of lying was going on while people thought all was ok. Deceit leads to big surprises.

      To understand his sense the first step is to be fully aware he has it, his sense, and then you have to get him to tell you. In this situation I wonder why he was not moving toward telling you his sense and why you were not noticing that he was keeping secrets. And at this point, besides my pointing out you have great lessons to learn, I’m wondering what I can do for you.

      I saw lots of clues to trouble. “He clearly treated me like I was his mother, but I am not!” Here’s a clue into argument and Master/Slave troubles. That could reveal that sense in the lying and secrecy.

      Good luck.

      P.S. if you write a lengthy story here, I sometimes take my time in responding. But then, I am retired, so I sometimes take my time in any case. 🙂

      • Thank you Al for replying to me. i realize you are retired and do not want to bother you with this old stuff. i put a story of 15 years in as short as possible paragraph. you are right saying that the lies enabling had taken place, especially in the beginning. although, i have to admit i confronted him several times and he denied everything, until he could not do it any more. the problem was that we lived in different countries (we are both from Russia), in different time zones, internet was limited, phone expensive and i was busy taking license exams and looking for a residency, working as much as i could and taking care of our child. i could not fathom why he should lie in this circumstances as i would let him go should he express an interest. he wasn’t a good husband, he did not help, he always promised things tomorrow and nothing ever happened. in other words, he always had a carrot a front of me that soon we will all live together and have a total bliss. he probably sensed my major desire – to have a family and he used it a lot.
        when finally i discovered the affair i cut off all communications including credit cards, and applied for divorce. this has its effect – affair had ended and he moved to the US, but we did not live together for 2 years. eventually he started gradually coming back and was so good that i started trust him again. when i lived by myself i managed everything just fine, to the best of my abilities. i bought my house, i hired people to fix it, we worked ourselves their as well. my husband was very helpful. he commute on weekends to help us with the house (it was a fixer-upper), was very good father to his son, their relationships also improved dramatically. it lasted for couple of years. then our son graduated from high school and left for a year on a student exchange program and than to college. i had a surgery that was quite scary, though it turned to be a benign brain tumor, plus an empty nest caused me to chicken up. so i agreed to move with him. as soon as i moved to his place i realized that it was a mistake. yes, intimacy was an issue — he was very territorial and started to treat me as an invader. i felt not very welcomed, started act submissively, lost my confidence very quickly. So our marriage got very sour. that when i noticed that his attitude changed, he started to treat me like and old woman, sort of like his mother, good for an advice and boring functions, not invited to go to the dance club or a rock concert. at the same time very conveniently a young and very insecure young lady became available to go with him, end of the story. they form a perfect union: she is very feminine, in her 30s, does not work, busy with her appearances and taking care of her daughter from previous marriage. he is very masculine, not attractive physically (he got very obese), but very wealthy businessman with the touch of Tony Soprano in his late 50s. and here i am, by myself, lone and disappointed wondering why i allowed it happened to me and what can i do to change myself to move on, and what is it wrong with me.

        • Dear Alla,

          Good to hear from you. You've been through a lot. Let's see.

          Questions: Why did you allow this all to happen to you? Most common answer is that you and he acted the way you were both taught. Generally it is useful to start understanding this by looking at how your parents behaved when you were young (seven and under). You'll probably find you behavior with him is like theirs. With that as a background, probably you just did what came next. Seemed right to you at the time. And here we are.

          Question: What is wrong with you? Given your teaching, nothing is wrong. But then I think you've decided you can and will do better. I congratulate you. I would suggest the Map of Relationships as a starting place. It covers everything that I think people need to learn. I would suggest getting a counselor as being a person to walk with you as you learn new things.

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