"There are two sides to every story."
Nice, right? Good way to remember that maybe the victim and perpetrator aren't as clear-cut as we were first led to believe. Good way to suspend judgment until all the facts are in. Good way to exercise the voice of reason in a volatile situation.
Here's the thing: it's not true.
Now I'm sure some folks have rolled their eyes and run off already. Maybe others are trying to pinpoint which thing in the news that I'm talking about. (I couldn't possibly pick one, so don't bother.) Someone is already writing their heated response to my obvious foolishness in their head. And all those reactions are exactly why the cute little saying isn't true, because there are waaaaaaay more than two sides to every story.
Humans are complicated, y'all. We are big bundles of messy emotions and motivations and intentions. Think about all the times in Fiddler on the Roof when Tevye mutters to himself, "On the other hand... but on the other hand... but on the other hand..." It gets a laugh, every time, at how quickly he runs out of hands. Until the time when he finally explodes, "There IS no other hand!" and then it's tragic, not funny.
Saying "There are two sides," when in fact there are many more sides, is a cop-out. It can be a stand-in for "I'm not choosing sides yet" or for "I have an unpopular opinion about this" or for "I think you're wrong but I don't yet have proof" or even for "Maybe this isn't worth spending our time arguing about" without really conveying any kind of meaning. At best, it sounds wise and reassuring without saying anything at all. At worst, it sounds wise and reassuring while being a passive-aggressive disagreement that's hard to refute, because who wants to disagree with both sides' right to their own agency?
|Even the most basic die has six sides. Humans definitely|
rate more sides than that.
Source: Armin Hanisch on freeimages.com.
It's nice to jump onto Facebook with platitudes and try to be a voice of reason. It's great to get comments about how levelheaded one's interpretation is of the headline du jour. It even feels good to score some points against a hotheaded friend who chooses sides at the outset and then turns out to have read the situation incorrectly. But it's also good to remember that human interactions aren't equations with one correct answer. Let's not pretend every outrage that hits the evening news can be solved by hashing out the two sides until we declare a victor (and then, as is the wont of humans, go on fiercely defending the side we liked better ad infinitum).
Withholding judgment until more facts are available is wise. It's okay not to know who was right and who was wrong. Not saying so--biting one's tongue (or fingers, since they do the typing)--is harder when the arguments are piling on and you suspect other people are wrong. But "there are two sides to every story" is still a cop-out, especially if it really means "I'm not ready to rationally discuss this." If I'm that interested and that invested in getting to the truth, saying "there are two sides" and leaving it at that is not going to get me there.
Post title is an homage to the Mathnet episode "The Case of the Galling Stones," which is about a gem shaped like a dodecahedron. I'm still a huge Mathnet fan, and while I loved Kate Monday, I adored Pat Tuesday.