Conflict Mastery: Are there True Sides to Every Story?
Someone once said, “Beware of the half-truth. You may have gotten hold of the wrong half.” In his 2002 film, The Kid Stays in the Picture, Robert Evans narrated that, “there are three sides to every story: your side, my side, and the truth. And no one is lying. Memories shared serve each differently…”
The month of November saw many Zimbabweans glued onto various social media platforms keenly following updates, theories and controversies that followed Michelle ‘Moana’ Amuli’s death in the accident that claimed the lives of Genius “Ginimbi” Kadungure, Limumba Karim from Malawi and Alichia Adams from Mozambique in an accident along Liberation Legacy Way (ordinarily known by many as Borrowdale Road), in Harare. The Local showbiz and the generality of Zimbabweans plunged into shock which was followed by boundless intrigue, reflection and speculation about life. Many theories surrounding the tragic demise that befell these four, culminated in various inquests into spiritual, cultural, traditional and to some extent technological interrogations where car manufacturers Honda and Rolls Royce were not spared.
A very concerning development around this fatal tragedy was the delay in the burial of Moana’s remains which prolonged her rest, as family disputes escalated to the courts. High Court Judge Justice Pisirai Kwenda aptly described it as “a unique case requiring more time to come up with an informed judgement.” The judge took time to hear oral evidence from the estranged couple over the burial dispute which saw the paternal family and maternal family at each other’s throat on who must lead on the funeral and burial of the deceased.
Against the backdrop of the conversations around the court case which encouraged communities to “embrace Ubuntu, tolerance and compromises to avoid similar disputes which can burden the courts,” I personally took time to reflect on the developments that surrounded the sad loss of these young lives. With every new day fresh revelations came to the fore, different perspectives and varying angles were presented by the different parties involved. I followed commentaries on various platforms as fellow Zimbabweans made conclusions, analyses, assumptions and deductions on the case – all based on the information that had been obtained at different points. Needless to say, the case continued to unfold, bringing out “truths” and facts that were previously unknown by the general public. It was at this point that I conclusively agreed within myself that there is definitely danger in the one sided story.
Danger of a Single Story
Our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories. Novelist Chimamanda Adichie tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice — and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding. In 2009 her twenty-minute TED Talk video, “Danger of a Single Story,” Adichie describes the powerful impression the multitude of British stories made on her as a young girl growing up in Nigeria. She argues that inherent in the power of stories, is a danger—the danger of only knowing one story about a group. “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”
Perspectives are Subjective
“There are actually three sides to every story. His, Hers, and the Truth.” Those words come into mind often. People’s life experiences are particular. Even when we live in the same four walls, we come out with different stories. Somewhere in the midst of our stories the truth exists.
The saying “there are three sides to every story” literally means that things are never black and white, there are shades of grey in between.
It reminds people that their perspective is subjective and their opinion is not the whole truth, that reality lies somewhere between two opposing perspectives.
This is not a technically accurate way of looking at stories, as there are always many factors involved and there is rarely one absolutely true version, nor does anything come down to two opposing viewpoints. This is just a reminder that people argue their side/opinion of something, and that reality is distinct from that opinion, and includes factors and perspectives which they might not like.
Perspectives are principled ways of making sense of the environment that are subjective in their very nature, but not private.
Are there really three sides to every story?
When we talk about an interpersonal dispute between two people, we commonly say there are two sides to every story – the other person’s version of events and issues and our own. However, many say there are three sides.
I personally do not think that referring to the third side as the “truth” is altogether accurate. For me, referring to there being a true side implies right and wrong of the other perspectives, and it seems that’s not altogether the optimal approach. That is, when we are in conflict, it is usual that we each believe our perceptions are truths. We believe in what we say and experience. We might at some level of consciousness realise when and how our emotions interfere and drive our interpretation of the other person and their intent out of proportion. Or, we may be aware our truth contains assumptions and views that are not based on fact. Or, we know we are exaggerating – even fabricating – to serve ourselves.
Conflict Mastery Questions
You could be reading this article and going through some nature of conflict in your own life, or perhaps someone close to you. I would like to invite you to answer the following questions – to consider three sides of the story:
What is the situation? What is your side of the story?
How might the other person describe their side of the story?
What is true for you about the situation that the other person doesn’t know or seem to acknowledge?
What don’t you know or understand about the other person’s version of their truth?
What is the truth about your contribution that you have some reluctance to share?
How might a third person observing the dispute describe what happened?
With what might that third person disagree that you said?
What is most challenging about facing the truths in this conflict?
What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?
What insights do you have?
I believe that it is important to consider embracing a multidimensional perspective in conflict resolution. This helps us to gain a clearer picture, see the details, capture a moment or to shift points of view, when needed.