One of the most important things I've learned as I've gotten older is this:
There's always two sides to every story.
Even when you're talking to your BFF and she's telling you about a friend who is cheating on her husband; even when you're listening to your child and she's telling you about a friend who hurt her feelings; even when you're talking to your husband and he's telling you about what an asshole someone is at work; even when you yourself feel anger at and disappointment in another person who you are convinced is the root of all your problems, be they personal, business or otherwise...even then, there's another side to the story.
There is right and wrong, true. I'm not talking about things like murder or child-abuse or stealing or lying to protect oneself. A woman cheating on her husband is wrong. But a husband who has cheated first and the wife is furious and in pain and does something stupid in retaliation -- it's wrong, but there's a reason for it. Sometimes it's just too difficult to do the right thing. Twenty-five years ago I would have been quick to judge the woman, but now I would wonder what happened to cause her to act that way. She may just be selfish, but maybe not.
When I hear people say things like "it was all his fault" or "she hurt me when she turned on me" I try to imagine what the other person in the story might be saying or thinking. Because nothing is as simple as he said/she said or he did/she did.
I've been in a few situations where things were so bad that the ending was bound to be ugly. I had a boyfriend from home when I went away to college who was an alcoholic and, one night when he was visiting me, pushed me hard in my little dorm room -- so hard that I fell. Fortunately I wasn't hurt, but the damage, of course, was done. A few months later I broke up with him for good and his friends (who I thought were my friends too -- another lesson) all stopped talking to me -- they had been told that I was a mean, heartless bitch. Years later I saw one of the friends and after talking for a while about my former boyfriend -- who was now in rehab -- I told the friend what had happened. He was stunned.
"I never would have thought that," he said.
It took me years to understand the impact alcoholism has on people's lives. Once I understood, I could see his side of our story much more clearly. Though I don't excuse his behavior, I grew to understand it more clearly. It was a relief.
Ah, youth. We are all so sure of ourselves when we're young, sure that we understand things that, in truth, we don't. It takes years of being shown, over and over, that there is so much more to the story than "she/he done me wrong," doesn't it. And if someone reaches the age of 50 without understanding that the world is filled with not black and white absolutes but gradations of grays that temper every situation, then she has much bigger problems than hurt feelings or a wounded ego.
I've learned a lot about people in my 52 years, and this is one of the things that's always true. Yes, your story sucks. But what about the other guy? And just in case you're wondering, this doesn't make me less of a friend -- in fact I think at times it makes me a better one. I hear what's being said, but I also hear what isn't. And often, those are the most important words of all.
Previously published on Empty House Full MInd