“There are two side to every question …”
We seem to have forgotten this age old bit of wisdom these days.
"There are two sides to every question" -- a quote from the Protagoras by Diogenes Laerius, Greek philosopher (485 BC – 421 BC)
The fashion these days is to grab a point of view, and cling to it, no matter what. We refuse, downright refuse to look at the other side – and there’s always another side. No, instead we stuff up our ears and open our mouths to scream ‘wrong!’ hoping that a big noise repeated loudly enough will drown out the other view.
If our arguments fail, why then there’s always ridicule and personal attack. We’ll use intimidation tactics, belligerence and anger. There's always threats and name calling. We’ll say and do just about anything rather than see or hear the other side of the question.
A civilized exchange of differing views has become impossible.
Why is that?
“In seeking truth you have to get both sides of a story.” -- Walter Cronkite quotes (American Journalist well known for his role as a television news anchor, b.1916)
Name any issue. Go ahead and think of one. Can’t? Want some help? Here’s a small list to help you along:
- The proposed changes to the medical insurance industry
- The building of a mosque near ground zero
- A woman’s right to choice in reproduction
- Capitalism as a foundation for society
- Illegal immigrants
- The control of sex offenders
- America’s role as ‘world police’
- Israel and the Palestinians
- The division of Ireland
- Foreign outsourcing of jobs
- President Obama’s performance so far
I’ll bet every one of you has a strongly held position on at least one of these issues. And here's the most interesting thing: no matter what your view on any
of these issues, you will be both right and wrong. There are always two
sides to every question. No one side has an exclusive on truth and reason.
Whatever your chosen stand, we hope it is an opinion based on independent thought, research and education on the situation, long deliberation, a review of all sides of the issue… In other words, it’s an opinion conceived of intellectual process.
“A point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted for insight and understanding.” -- Marshall McLuhan
We hope, but let’s face it, for many the intellectual process is a foreign concept.
Seems to me, many of us subscribe to a program, take on a label, and adopt what we perceive to be befitting that particular description. For example, let’s say I call myself a conservative. Now as a conservative, I must: vote Republican; support the ideal of America the land of free enterprise; espouse family values (i.e. the father is head of the household; the mother should stay home with the children) we should all go to church; be against government spending for social programs but pro government spending for military; pro for profit, private enterprise medicine and corporate entity medical insurance -- with no ground given; believe the poor are deservedly so, and it’s not my worry anyway; my favorite answer is, ‘Not on my dime.’ On the other hand, if I call myself a liberal, well then I’d …
We become caricatures of our belief systems. We dress the part, walk the walk and talk the talk. We absorb the role and accept the lines already written
for us. It saves us so much work. No need to examine the issues; no need to question the sources; no need to think. There are many standing before us as our role models with ready made opinions for us. "Join us but only if you believe as we do..."
We like belonging. We like being led.
All of which is fine, providing we can still think rationally, and give ourselves the flexibility to consider all aspects of the issues, take what works for us, discard that which does not, and become fully functional. We will discover there is truth to be found on both sides of an issue. Neither is one hundred percent right or wrong.
Why do we then refuse to even look? As if to give a grudging inch means ceding all. In fact, we react with anger if even asked to
do so. Are we so afraid of everything that is not ‘part of our program’ we can't acknowledge even a small truth despite the evidence before us?
“Anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding.” -- Mohandas Gandhi
A necessary part of life is that we make decisions and reach judgments. But decisions made “without due examination” or judgments reached “on other grounds than reason or justice” are evidences of a closed mind. Having an open mind, on the other hand, means to be receptive to new information and ideas. It means being willing to examine and to evaluate information without a biased attitude…
Are you open-minded enough to consider the possibility that you may not be? It will pay to find out. Whereas an open mind can serve to your advantage, a closed one will almost certainly serve to your detriment.
Before we “knew” so much, before we became attached to our beliefs as though they were truths, we had the ability to ask innocent questions, to view a situation from every angle with unbiased eyes and to selectively acquire beliefs from both sides of a problem.
Yes, illegal immigrants are taking jobs that may have given income to American families, and yes, as they have crossed with none of the normal controls, criminals may have entered, and yes, they may present a burden on the taxpayers if they fall sick. On the other side, we must also acknowledge, most illegal immigrants are law abiding, hard working, taking on jobs under conditions others may not, often exploited by employers, fleeing poverty and lack of a future in their homelands, seeking a better life for their children, trying to support families back home ...
Does understanding the other side change our view that illegal immigration is a problem that must be solved? Not at all. In fact, we now have a better understanding of the issue.
Why then have we become so confrontational when discussing the issues before us?
According to some experts in human psychology, we react from ego. Very often, especially when arguing, people focus on winning, or being right, which tends to mean that they are asking the other person to admit that he/she was wrong. We may also find ourselves reacting to the feeling that we are being told that we are “wrong” when arguing. When people focus on winning, others tend to experience this as having his/her feelings or perspective discounted or disrespected. This is only going to lead to defensiveness and escalation from both parties. Instead of focusing on understanding the perspectives of both sides we close our minds, and only concentrate on being right, on winning.
The sad thing is, none of us holds the truth. We are all ‘fed’ our views, and all that differs between us is which voice we heard, and how willing we are to be programmed. We are all wrong; we are all right. We are all dupes – let’s be honest.
“Appearances often are deceiving.” Aesop quotes (Author of a collection of Greek fables. 620 BC-560 BC)
What is this phenomenon that causes to react to a differing opinion with such antagonism. We stake our self esteem, our pride on some idea we hold, acquired we’re not sure how, but kept sacred as some truth so special we dare not even consider any alternative?
It is our natural tendency to think that we see things the way they really are. But since we all see things from our own perspectives, filtered through those acquired beliefs we vest with such importance, it should be apparent that we see things as we are, not as they are. The inability to see things from another’s perspective is at the root of relationship problems everywhere: from personal life, to work, to conflicts between religions, cultures, and nations.
We need some shifts in focus to see the world through another person’s eyes. Generally, our resistance to do so comes from two sources: a) we “know” we are right and the other person is wrong; and b) we think if we attempt to see things from the other’s point of view, we might have to give up our own.
And that's how we lose so many opportunities to learn, to grow, to agree and cooperate.
"Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will." -- Martin Luther King, Jr.
Deborah Tannen, a noted linguist, professor, and author of the bestseller You Just Don't Understand, decries in The Argument Culture what she considers our compulsive desire to use combative rhetoric when we communicate in public - in the media, in politics, in our courtrooms and classrooms.
The argument culture urges us to approach the world - and the people in it - in an adversarial frame of mind. It rests on the assumption that opposition is the best way to get anything done; the best way to discuss an idea is to set up a debate; the best way to cover news is to find spokespeople who express the most extreme example of any opinion.
And we feed on it.
Suddenly, it is not enough for for us to hold our blind beliefs, we now insist that everyone must believe as we do. We tout our causes, politic to change the laws of the land to suit our vision, fight anyone and anything that espouses views differing to our own. Do we stop to think of what we're really doing?
We are destroying freedom and restricting personal choice, knowledge, wisdom, all in the ego-driven belief we and we alone are right.
We must avoid even a glance at the other side. For surely if we acknowledge that therein lies the tiniest slip of a truth, our whole structure will tumble down.
If I am a staunch conservative, I can't admit there are real injustices that might be solved through a more accessible and publicly supported health care system. No, I can't grant even that much -- no matter how much evidence is piled before my eyes.
If I am a liberal, I mustn't agree that the influx of illegal immigrants has increased violent crime in the border states, and places an unfair burden on the already inadequate social services, even though the truth of such a statement is self-evident.
We must avoid looking at the other side. We avoid truth.
"The evil that is in the world almost always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding." -- Albert Camus
So what has prompted this essay on truth, Lynda? Why are you writing this now?
There are certain names that pop up in your inbox that as soon as you see them you already know what it is they’re going to say – none of which will have anything to do with the point you’ve made in your article. You know the ones. There’s Jon who spams any hub with political content with his raving, rants against the Obama administration; HisServant who reduces everything to his own rather peculiar interpretation of God’s law; Deb who spews hatred for gays wherever she goes and whose favorite refrain is “get your hands off my county!” You know ‘em.
Okay, we tell ourselves – the lunatic fringe. The only decision is whether to delete or allow the comment.
But they’re not the only ones who work from preconceptions and refuse to consider the other side. I know I’ve been guilty of that on some subjects . When it came to child sex abuse, I held very narrow views. I saw only the victims. Working on some cases, I turned a deaf ear to the rebukes of the social workers trying to keep that family together, trying to find a solution for both offender and victim. Not surprising, I suppose, for someone whose job was to connect with the child, gain trust, hear their words, lead them into treatment, advocate for them with the authorities, protect them…
Yes, to me , anyone labeled a sex offender was the lowest of the low, deserving of whatever punishment society chose to hand out – and hung, drawn and quartered sounded about right to me.
I didn’t want to hear anything else. I wouldn’t. Not only would I not listen – there was no other side to this issue.
retrospect, I wish I hadn’t been so stubborn, so emotional, so one-sided. I
would have been more effective in my work. I missed many opportunities to learn, to expand my understanding.
Now, finally realizing there is another side to the whole sex-offender story – in fact there are many – I felt ready to explore that. To this opening of the eyes, I can only credit some new people who have come into my life, workers on the ‘other side.’ I owe gratitude to a number of people, some from law enforcement, some in the legal profession, one or two in social services, a chaplain, and a few other brave and dedicated souls.
Some of us mature more slowly than others, and perhaps I am one. Part of wisdom -- which myth has it comes with age -- is the ability to see both sides of the question. Of this, I am sure.
I have now made a vow to look at all issues from both sides.
The Bible itself exhorts us to examine all things, never to take anything at face value, but to study, consider and judge for ourselves:
Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. (1 Thess. 5:21)
Sooner or later we all run into a closed mind. They don’t want to know whatever it is you are trying to explain – it makes no difference. Case closed. Might as well be talking to the wall; my aunt used to say.
For those who want to see for yourselves the kind of responses that inspired me to write this article, I urge you to study some of the comments on my recent article on sex offenders, the sex offenders registry and the idea there may be injustice in some cases. Yes, truly one-sided visionaries do abound.
I would share the contents of my email inbox with you, but hubpages would quickly yank it off as inappropriate content. Amazing -- I tried to write a very balanced account of the issues of the sex offenders registry, some of the social problems involved, the political ones -- an all round fair article. Now, apparently, I am lower than a female dog, evil incarnate, a turncoat, a witless dupe of the lying, moaning, self-pitying offenders themselves, deserve to be violated (in every way imaginable) by those I 'defend'...
Listen all -- there are indeed two sides to every issue, and whether you like it or not, both sides need to be understood before we ask society to make further decisions.
“Every truth has two sides; it is as well to look at both, before we commit ourselves to either." -- Aesop quotes (Ancient Greek Author of a collection of fables. 620 BC-560 BC)
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