It's not Me vs You
My Why audio version of this blog available here.
Buckle in folks, because today I’m on my soapbox about something.
Walter Cronkite, an American broadcast journalist who served as anchorman for CBS News for 19 years once said this:
In seeking truth you have to get both sides of a story. Walter Cronkite
I’ve certainly learnt more and more as I mature, about the importance of these words, but lately it feels like this is harder to do.
Over the last few years I’ve had an increasing number of discussions with people on topical issues and subjects, as they share with me the pressure of feeling like they have to hold a certain viewpoint, have a strong opinion on a topic, or change what they believe about something. There’s almost a feeling of bullying involved. Not in a ‘so and so pulled my pigtails’ type of way, but a gradual building pressure to try and sway people’s opinions and beliefs. Now, of course that’s always been present in society, like propaganda during the world wars, but it feels like there’s a shift, almost like everyone has an agenda now.
It feels like the freedom to make our own minds up is eroding, in favour of whoever shouts loudest is right. But it doesn’t just stop there, the goal isn’t just to be loudest or right, it’s to also make the other side look invalid, wrong or misinformed.
The first time I really noticed it nationally over here in the UK was during Brexit. No longer were people merely choosing what they wanted to vote for, giving respect to both sides but making their own decision, instead there was this strong vibe in the air (largely emanating from those that were anti leaving the EU) that suggested that those that wanted to leave were not only wrong, but ignorant, stupid or mis-informed. No longer were we just choosing a side and voting for it on its merits and benefits to us personally, letting parliament do the debating and campaigning, instead individuals were out for blood with those around them that wanted to vote for the opposition. This made it hard to see the merits in either argument because everyone had abandoned those in favour of picking holes in the other side. This might sound like any political situation, but it felt different somehow because it got nasty, and personal, with character attacks on people who were voting differently. Since then I’ve seen it over many issues, but it was the first shift in that direction that I noticed nationally.
I spoke to many people who were hesitant to voice which way they had voted and to be honest, I’d put a lot of money on the fact people voted one way but told others they did the opposite. Even once the vote was in and the country had made the decision to leave, there was still a poisonous atmosphere as the losing side called for another vote, claiming people didn’t know what they were voting for. I’d like to say these comments were from people who had spoken to voters on both sides and weighed up all the viewpoints, but I fear that was not the case.
Now, whenever I hear a loud argument coming out of another country that only tells me one side, I always wonder about the other side of the argument I’m not hearing. It even pushes me towards it - I am a sucker for an underdog after all.
This culture, in my view, is destructive to society. It screams out - ‘if you’re not for me, you have to be against me’. We're seeing it everywhere. You have to vote passionately for your Prime Minister/President or hate your Prime Minister/President, you have to be pro-life or pro-choice, committed Christian or strong atheist, homophobic or celebrating/campaigning for pride, promoting/employing only minorities or misogynist/racist practices, climate change protester or climate change denier.
We allow no space for doubt, discussion, change of heart, individual interpretation or opinion, or even the journey from one viewpoint to the other. Equally we make no effort to try and persuade people with the validity of an opinion, we just try to bully them onto our side by attempting to destroy their argument and pull apart their current views. An argument is far more persuasive to me if you give me merits on both sides, and then tell me why you’re backing one, because I trust your opinion over someone who only has a blinkered view of the topic.
Chances are you might already be feeling uncomfortable because I mentioned a subject you’re not on board with. Why is that? When did we get so uncomfortable with other people’s opinions? Because that’s what they are, no one person is right 100% on an issue, we’re all swayed by our experiences, our upbringing, our political views, what’s important to us, what we believe in. The hate and swearing and pretty propaganda that I’ve seen on social media recently over some issues has been heart-breaking. People tearing into others for having their own ‘freedom of speech’.
Why are we so convinced nowadays that our view must be right and everyone else is wrong? Why do we fear what's different? Why aren’t people curious about the other side any more? Where are the wise people who see the situation in equal balance and then educate people about why they have chosen an opinion? It’s far more effective for your cause than putting the ‘f word’ on your social media to anyone who opposes you. Maybe we need to bring back debating and make people argue against the side they feel passionately about, to find the valid points in the opposing argument. Because there’s one thing I can tell you, there is always reasons, motives or emotions on the other side that you don’t know about or haven’t considered. Period. No one human has all the facts, no one human knows all the right answers and the rest of the world should just follow them. Things are rarely what they seem at face value.
I heard a story once when I was studying dog psychology (yes that’s another life ago now). A large dog had been brought into the vets because it had bitten the owner's young daughter. The vet was very bemused by the situation because this wasn’t a dog prone to any kind of violent behaviour. Sadly, the dog had to be put to sleep, as happens with most dogs if they harm a child. The vet, wanting to get to the bottom of the behaviour, asked the owner if he could perform a post-mortem on the dog, and the owner agreed. What the vet found was a wax crayon, lodged deep inside the dog’s ear canal.
Not every situation is as it seems. You don’t know the motivations for a person’s actions, including why they are so passionately attempting to get you to believe what they believe. And in my experience aggression almost always comes from pain.
When asking a friend (who I met through being a previous Silent Why guest) about this recently, she wisely said that when a contentious debate arises and there is pressure to fall one side or the other but she doesn’t know where she stands, she will reply: ‘I don’t hate a side, but I don’t feel the need to fight for a side either. I see validity on both sides.’ For me, this summed up how a lot of us feel at times, but we just haven’t found a way to word it. Of course it’s good to feel passionately about something, pick a side, and to fight for a cause you believe in, but as the world gets more and more complicated there is a pressure to have to know where you stand on so many issues that are either new, complicated, murky or just downright confusing.
So, if you’re feeling this pressure, let me relieve you of it. You don’t have to pick a side. If you don’t know which side you’re on, it’s ok to see merit in both sides, or equally believe both sides are in the wrong. I’ve learnt this myself in life over and over again. There are always two sides to a story, and they rarely align in exactly the same conclusion. To ignore/discount/reject/hate one side in favour of the other, isn’t wise and doesn’t give you the whole story anyway.
Just because you don’t understand it, doesn’t mean it isn’t so. Lemony Snicket.
There are subjects I feel very passionately about, things I would never do or commit to or be a part of, but it feels harder and harder to be honest about that in a public arena because of the backlash from others who disagree. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good debate and even a bit of conflict, but with the aim to be educated, to push into beliefs, thoughts and motives on a deeper level, to understand, not to tear the other person down or make them join me. Equally, we shouldn’t all just hover around in the middle either, or nothing gets done.
Standing in the middle of the road is very dangerous; you get knocked down by the traffic from both sides. Margaret Thatcher
It’s more about what Aesop said:
Every truth has two sides; it is as well to look at both, before we commit ourselves to either. Aesop
Or even Zig:
I read the paper every day and the Bible every day; that way I know what both sides are up to. Zig Ziglar
We actually miss out on a lot by not understanding the other side of the argument. Look at war for example. Often in war there is one side fighting for freedom or to protect themselves, and one side fighting to attack and control. So it’s not tricky to pick a side to want to stand on. But if you left the situation there, right and wrong, that's it, nothing is learnt through history. Those that do more good in the world are the ones that are analysing motives, reasons, tactics of the attacking side to learn why they are doing it, how can they be stopped, what are the motivations, what past experiences are causing this behaviour, and how can it be prevented from happening again? Yes, there might be benefits to making signs and shouting about how everyone should hate that country from a street corner miles away, but ultimately, which approach will help the war effort most? I’m willing to bet it’s the ones that actually engage with the other side of the argument, despite them being in the wrong, to find out more about it. After all, you can’t fully dismantle the opposing argument unless you know as much about it as those fighting for it do.
And that’s what really gets my goat at the moment, the way people have chosen to not mention the benefits of their argument, in favour of tearing apart other people’s. Scaremongering. ‘If our country does this - we will all die’. ‘If you vote this way, you must hate all [fill in the blanks]’. ‘If you believe that, this means x/y/z.’ I saw a post recently that suggested if someone had a particular procedure done it would ultimately end in pain, loss and grief. No one has the knowledge or foresight to know what will happen to someone else if they do something, to know what their story will be, you just can’t predict that.
For those that listen to The Silent Why hopefully this is something that’s becoming more and more evident. For example, would anyone have predicted these outcomes: Man loses his arm and says: ‘I suppose it’s a gift. Isn't it really? I look at it as a gift, the best thing that happened to me. Because I've done more with my life like this, had it never happened.’
Woman knows her baby is going to die at birth and says: 'I want to go back and change it. I mean, I want both of those things, of course, I would do anything to live it over again, but I don't feel bold enough to say that I would change the ending, because the ending has had some really beautiful growth and miracles after it.’
Man working with the extinction of animals every day says: ‘Hope remains eternal. Grief and loss can crystallise some beauty in your life, and some positive action.’
Woman who was badly scarred from a child says: ‘The life that I've lived, it wasn't all just moonshine and roses, but if I had a choice to live my life over again, it would be the same life. The exact same life… my scars I've contributed to the person that I am. And I am happy with me. Maybe without the scars, I would have been different. But I love who I am. I love the person that I am, scars and all.’
Woman who had miscarriages before being left childless says: ‘I finally stopped trying to create my story the way I wanted it to be, and let it be the story that had that freedom to explore and find its specific place in this world. And when I found that, that's when the joy started bubbling out.’
When was the last time you heard someone shouting that if you go through traumatic loss, you will gain rewards and characteristics that will bless you abundantly? Probably not recently, if at all. And what scares me most is that there are unhealthy attitudes leaking over into the grief world. I’m seeing people be encouraged to wear their pain as a badge, which scares people and encourages others to stay in it, rather than show their pain in a way that fosters hope, encourages others and helps them through.
I know it’s very easy to separate ourselves into us and them, and behind closed doors it’s even a bit cathartic, but looking at it like it’s ‘us having gone through the traumatic grief, and them that haven’t’ becomes an easy trap to assume others couldn’t possibly understand what we’ve been through. Sadly this often results in us thinking they’re the enemy. It genuinely saddens me. I’ve started to notice a bit of an attitude in the grief world that sort of implies - ‘I’m going to grieve and do my thing, and I don’t give two hoots if that makes it awkward or uncomfortable for you.’
Having said that, I can see where this approach came from. As we learn more about grief, we’re learning it takes time to heal and others won’t understand what we’re going through, so it’s important to take time to ourselves to feel our feelings and be honest and true to our grief. And there’s validity there, but on the other side, when we start to believe that our grief is what should dictate everything and everyone around us, with no allowances for mistakes or potential grief in the other person we’re speaking to, it actually causes more pain. And there’s one thing grief shouldn’t really do - cause more pain intentionally to others. Yes it happens, and we’ve all probably done it, whether fully intentional or through that lovely passive aggressive stance, but it doesn’t feel nice and you can’t tell me it’s enjoyable or helpful once you’ve done it. There’s enough pain in grief as it is. Just because someone asks me ‘do you have children?’ and it’s a little painful, doesn’t mean I have a right to inflict pain back again, they might even be going through childlessness or child loss themselves.
We live in a hurting world, and more people than you realise are closing their doors and crying at night. As they say - ‘Hurt people, hurt people’.
If you can, help others; if you cannot do that, at least do not harm them. Dalai Lama
Now I’m not saying we all need to get over stuff, act normal, be there for those around you, and stuff your own grief! I’m saying we can be more kind in how we express ourselves in public arenas like social media and how we deal with the other side of debates and social interactions. Yes, there’s a lot of education to be done to help others understand grief and loss so they’re more accommodating and empathising, but even as grievers we still have a responsibility to not cause more hurt to others.
Over the last year, as I’ve jumped into the grief world on social media to get a feel for what’s going on, I’ve probably been as pained by what I’ve seen there, as I have all the happy family holiday, baby pictures on the other side. It’s hard to see people on Mother’s Day grieving the children they had once, when I didn’t get to see or meet mine. I feel like I don’t fit into either group, and so don’t fit anywhere. I try to remember that whatever any one is mourning, someone else would give anything to have had what was lost. Whether a family member, career, arm, leg, memories, data, identity - for every loss we grieve there’s someone out there praying for it in the first place. So when we sit in our grief and say ‘screw the rest of the world, you don’t understand’, we inadvertently hurt others and press on the bruised areas of their heart, while telling others to not do it to ours. The minute you comment too heavily on any one side of that, you risk hurting others on a different side.
Knowing a man well never leads to hate and almost always leads to love. John Steinbeck
If you understand each other you will be kind to each other. John Steinbeck.
I’ve spoken to many people on the podcast who want to talk about the good and hope and joy that has come out of their grief, and it’s an area I will always be passionate about because it spreads hope. But something new hit me this week. I was editing next week’s interview for The Silent Why and the guest said something that struck me. She wasn’t just looking to be aware of those around her as she grieved, she was going a step further. Jennifer said this:
It’s like after bereavement… they don’t know how to handle that… so I had to approach them… You have to enable other people to learn through your own difficult experience, because it can then be a learning experience for them as well, one which they haven’t had before, so that’s a privilege, isn’t it? To help people learn how to help other people or walk through these traumatic situations, and to just explain to them what would be appropriate to say or helpful. It’s just such a privilege, even if it has crumbly bits at the edges sometimes. Jennifer Bute, Episode 43, The Silent Why
Flip. She’s not just allowing for people’s mistakes and trying to help them when she’s ready, but actually seeing her loss as a moment of privilege, because you get to teach others through it. And spoiler alert - her loss involves her brain function. Now, I understand that in the messy, horrid, initial moments of grief this isn’t something anyone can even think about, but Jennifer isn’t talking about those times, she’s talking about afterwards, months or a year afterwards when you are out in the world and trying to function. Jennifer’s losses were two-fold, a sad death and a career destroying diagnosis (you’ll have to listen to the episode to find out more), yet her approach, her wisdom and her faith that good comes out of bad, have led her to go beyond her own grief and into using it to help others. This is a new challenge to me, and one I want to think on further.
We are all here on earth to help others; what on earth the others are here for I don't know. W. H. Auden
Life isn’t black and white, it’s a balance of both, it’s literally a bit of both tones actually, it’s grey. It’s ok to see validity in both sides of the argument. The person who has the affair isn’t always the cause of the divorce, the words that hurt you in your grief aren’t always personal or anything to do with you, the person that blanks you isn’t always being intentionally rude, the best people don’t avoid all the worst things, the worst people do get great things, not everyone who votes for a leader loves all they stand for, life is what it is, and it’s rarely what we’d like, but that’s the best thing about it.
Good can exist in bad, and bad can exist in good. It's not black and white. Sarah Jeffery
It comes back to kindness, grace, love and patience, with ourselves in the early days of grief, with others once we step out of the house, with the views of those around us. Without this, the world descends into selfish chaos. We end up fighting for things we don’t fully believe in, hating those who think differently to us and having no appreciation or allowance for the grey areas, and there are many, which I’m spotting more and more as I get older.
The great thing about getting older is that you become more mellow. Things aren't as black and white, and you become much more tolerant. You can see the good in things much more easily rather than getting enraged as you used to do when you were young. Maeve Binchy
Life is hard, you know that, I know that, that’s the sole reason this podcast exists, without the tough times we wouldn’t have a subject matter, but without the good that comes out of bad, we wouldn’t have a podcast.
So if there’s one thing I’d love you to take away from this episode today, it’s to have more compassion and grace for others, especially those you don’t agree with on something, you don’t win people to your side by destroying theirs and making it a last resort for them. Who wants recruits that are forced over to your side anyway?! If you are passionate about something, show people the validity of the argument, show them why you care about it, show them why it matters. If you want someone to understand your grief, show them why it hurts, show them how life is hard, teach them so they can teach others, then one day, no one will need to teach anyone, because we were part of the generation that showed the way, got up out of our pain and showed others how to help people through it, so that generations after us wouldn’t have to endure the same.
If we can all be a little bit of the difference, we can make a huge impact overall. And don’t forget, people don’t have to agree with you, the world is a better place for diversity of people, views, beliefs, opinions and experiences.
Of course there are some things that are very black and white, and one in particular that I will not debate, because there is a very clear cut argument for it and I won’t hear a word said against it - marzipan.
And anyone who doesn’t like marzipan is just a @&$%ing *&@$, evil, £$%& $%*&!!