Reality Check: Both Sides True

When we have a disagreement, whether with an individual or a whole group of people, it’s common to think uncharitable thoughts about those on the other side.
After all, it goes without saying that we are correct on the issue. We’ve examined facts, or we’ve listened to people we trust, or we just have a gut feeling that we know the way things ought to be. We know that we are right.
And if we are right, if the facts/opinions/feelings are abundantly clear to us, then how can others not see things as we do? Are they willfully blind? Just not very smart? Or genuinely evil?
Once we’ve concluded that there is something wrong with the people who disagree with us, then it’s a short step to regarding them as objects—less-than-human. They can be labeled. There are all kinds of disrespectful or downright nasty labels that people use to define folks just because they disagree with a perspective.
You’ve undoubtedly seen examples of this labeling behaviour in current events. Whether it’s politics, economic development, even science, we find examples of, “If you don’t agree with me, then you are a [insert whatever label you believe fits here.]”
The real sadness is that there will be no dialog with this approach. There’s no persuasion, influence, or reconciliation if two sides are just yelling at each other across a divide. Even if only one side is yelling, with the other is shaking its head; you’re witnessing bullying, not persuasion.
Yet two sides—two perceptions—can both can be true at the same time.
We’re surrounded by information; so much that it can be overwhelming. We pay attention to some of it; the rest passes us by.
For example, Jan and Michel work at the same company. From the way they talk though, you would have no idea that their workplaces have anything in common.
Jan loves her job. She sees her co-workers and the company as caring, productive, safety oriented and full of opportunity.
On the other hand, Michel’s experience is cynical; co-workers are out to get you and brownnosing their way to the top. The company doesn’t care about workers, safety, environment or anything that doesn’t contribute to the bottom line.
When an opportunity was provided by the company to participate in a charitable event, some workers chose to do so.
Jan’s observation is, “It’s so wonderful that people are giving their time to contribute.”
Michel’s observation is, “They are just doing that to look good and get out of work.”
What’s the reality? Both stories could be true at the same time. In any company, the realities of daily life can vary. The people around you can have a huge influence. Jan’s co-workers and environment may be, in reality, quite different from Michel’s.
However, it’s also possible that the differences in Jan and Michel’s observations don’t stem from differences in reality at all, but from their different perceptions.
If you want to live a satisfying life, then which perception is more effective?
Jan is doing fine. She is optimistic, making money, contributing to the workplace and the community, and living a satisfying life.
Michel is not so fine. It can’t be fun to spend every day working with people he doesn’t trust, for a company he doesn’t respect, doing work that he takes no pride in.
If Michel is open to the possibility, he could test the accuracy of his perception. How? Talk to Jan. Why is she positive about her work? What does she see in the company that he doesn’t?
This column was inspired by Chris and her perceptive observations about two seemingly contradictory stories being true at the same time. Thank you.
Have you experienced situations where two different stories are true at the same time?

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