10 Reasons to Listen to Both Sides of Any Story

by Melissa Karnaze

iStock_000006095518XSmallThere’s no such thing as a plain-vanilla story. It wouldn’t be a story, just some boring facts.

Storytellers have to tug at the heartstrings of their audience.

They have to beef up the details. And paint the picture — happy or sad, dreadful or triumphant, hopeless or inspiring, good or bad.

Whenever someone tells you a story, there’s something in it for them. They’re telling it white or black — because that’s how they believe it is, or want you to see it.

And this doesn’t just go for fantasy stories, but also:

    • The news (goodness the news!)
    • Gossip (for obvious reasons)
    • Second-hand information
    • Practically any publication (most certainly including blogs)
    • Personal anecdotes
    • Anytime anyone speaks for someone else (even in a business meeting where the boss isn’t present, but spoken for)

Why stories are selective

Stories aren’t objective, they’re selective. This is because humans aren’t capable of pure objectivity. Even the most “objective” institution we have — science — can’t be 100% objective.

People can’t be 100% objective when telling stories for several reasons, four of which are really important:

    1. They perceive events subjectively in the first place, paying attention to certain details and ignoring certain others
    2. Their subconscious cognitive networks frame the way they perceive events
    3. Once they gather their information, they make sense of it in a subjective (and often subconscious way)
    4. In making sense of their information, they naturally tend toward confirmation bias, where they bend or use the information in a way that supports their preexisting beliefs and assumptions

The free e-class, Your Life is Your Construct talks more about how humans experience reality in powerful and subtle subjective ways. If you want to learn how to use this to your advantage, sign up here.

Story-pitch reveals a lot of information

Once you tune into how selective story-telling is, you can start to glean untold insights about not only the story itself, but the storyteller.

People reveal a lot about themselves and how they construe their experience. Just in how they tell a story. Or that they tell it at all.

They also reveal a lot about their emotional relationship to the story — if they’re happy, inspired, bitter, or uncertain. Listen closely and you’ll learn a lot more than meets the ear.

Stories usually have at least two versions

Big stories — that a lot of people tell — often come in two flavors. Chocolate and vanilla, bad and good. Big stories are big public events or loaded controversies, where people easily become polarized about the issue.

When it comes to a polarized story — it’s really smart to actively seek the other version. As a trivial example, if one reviewer raves about a movie — go find a review by someone who tears it apart.

Let’s go into ten reasons why it’s actually healthy to do this.

Reason #1: Get more perspective

The most immediate outcome of hearing both sides of any story is that you get a bigger picture of the issue. Since each side highlights and omits certain details, you’re left with more details overall. This helps reconstruct what really happened, or see what’s really at hand.

Reason #2: Understand why the winner is right

Now since you’re selective in how you hear both sides of the any story, you usually have your mind made up on which side you think is right. Before actually hearing out the other side.

If you can read the opposing side without flinching or having an emotional outburst, you’re on you way to surefire confidence and you won’t feel compelled to argue about why you’re right. Instead, you simply engage in honest and direct discussion with those who are genuinely interested in your viewpoint (argument addicts aren’t).

That’s why you need to work with those negative emotions — so that they mobilize you to be more resilient and have a broader perspective.

Reason #3: Become more aware of your inner right

In so building a stronger (and more mindful) case of why you side the way you do — it builds confidence. You see more clearly how your stance helps you be more honest with yourself, emotionally resilient, and response able. You consciously make a better case for why you believe and act in the ways you do.

Reason #4: Understand why the loser is wrong

It’s also important to scope out the opposing side with more grit. In a crude sense, you can tally up all the weak or bullshit arguments made by your opposition. This sharpens your ears for similar debates or issues in your daily life — and you’ll be better prepared to respond with confidence because you’ve already rehearsed your stance and why it matters.

Reason #5: Become more aware of your inner wrong

Here’s where it gets creatively introspective. Once you’ve sized up the opposition and can see through their weak and bullshit arguments — you can turn those criticisms back onto you. Are you repeating any of these destructive or dysfunctional behaviors in your own life? Even if it’s a much smaller scale, it’s necessary to expose these weakness and contradictions, to lead your life more mindfully. And effectively, because if you’re guilty of what your opposition does, it can’t be great news.

Reason #6: Recognize when there aren’t any victors, only losers

Sometimes a polarized story doesn’t have clear winners and losers, because everyone loses in some major way. It could be that one side makes a good point about why their opposition is wrong — but they become menacing hypocrites in the process. Most of the time when one side violently fights against the other (when there are alternatives), it becomes a shot in the foot. It’s far more productive to fight for something than against.

Reason #7: Deconstruct the underlying issue or cause

In analyzing both sides of a story long enough, you can start to see beyond all the sensationalizations and emotionally-loaded claims (like about morality or what God says is Truth). As a result, you can start to see what the real issue is, or rather how to approach it in a more objective manner.

The thing about human perception is that people slap on layers and layers of constructs — which describe events in after-the-fact ways.

Good and evil are human constructs — they don’t objectively exist “out there.” Good and evil deconstructed might look something like this: good means respecting people’s personal boundaries (unless in defending one’s life or the life of another); evil means disrespecting people’s personal boundaries (unless in defending one’s life or the life of another).

It’s much easier to work with good and evil deconstructed because you can actually focus on concrete action rather than abstraction and fuzzy notions of what to do.

Reason #8: Have better reasons to make up your own version of the story

It’s healthy to view a story as deconstructed as you can make it. And then to consciously fight for the side — or important elements of both sides — in constructive ways that work for you.

(You certainly won’t get to this point if you sit in your own corner favoring one side over the other — and never looking deeper into the dynamics at play.)

Reason #9: Develop more emotional resilience when people want to disagree with you

As mentioned in reason #4, the more command you have over the material, the more at peace you’ll be with your final stance. (Of course, you can change you stance too, that’s all part of growing and learning.)

Having a fuller perspective as well as the benefits from each of the previous reasons makes your own positioning more coherent. And it makes you less (or not) interested in arguing to prove to yourself that you’re right — because you already know that you are. It also makes you less interested in converting others to your own side — because you know they won’t really get it unless they go through what you’ve gone through, or at least something close.

Additionally, you’ll be able to better deconstruct the arguments of anyone trying to attack you or make you wrong.

Reason #10: Be able to better empathize with more people in your life

As a cumulative result of listening to both sides of any story, you can better understand why people side certain ways on polarizing or controversial issues.

That’s because you can:

    • Deconstruct the issue, and what a person’s stance means from the deconstructed perspective
    • Deconstruct their arguments
    • Find common ground, which is much easier to do after stripping away (cultural) constructions and facing the important issues head-on

Hear out both sides of any story

If you move out of your comfort zone and listen to what you might normally think of as the enemy — it makes you sharper, stronger, and more balanced in the end. So get used to looking for the different flavors of a story. You just might find something really worth it, and something really worth fighting for.

What’s coming up in the next two weeks…

Over the next two weeks you’ll hear from both sides of the personal development story. It’s often polarized to two major sides:

    • Is personal development (and self help) good for you? Does it help you in ways no other resource can? Can it truly get you where you want to go?
    • Or is personal development (and self help) bad for you? Is it based on faulty assumptions and dysfunctional systems? Does it come with more pitfalls than benefits?

Chris Edgar and Cory Chu-Keenan will explore both sides of the issue.

When reading their articles, keep in mind that they aren’t really arguing against one another. In fact, they each submitted their articles independently of knowing what the other wrote about. Both of them make valid points and they so happened to submit their articles on the same topic, while representing opposing sides — so that’s why their articles are companioned with this article as a preface.

I hope you enjoy the discussion! You might want to challenge yourself to find some common ground.

Where I’ll be…

Tomorrow I’m headed for Alaska. I’ll be spending my days fishing and breathing in the fresh air. I’ll do my best to approve comments when I can, and will be getting back to emails once I return. Happy reading, hope I catch a bigger one than last year, and I’ll be in touch in a few weeks!

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Abubakar Jamil July 14, 2010 at 9:15 am

Very well written Melissa and your depth of understanding of this topic and the approach you took to explore it, speaks volumes about you.


Cory Chu-Keenan July 14, 2010 at 1:21 pm

Melissa “Don King” Karnaze. You’re in the wrong business. You sure do know how to build HYPE! :D

Shoot, I’m even excited to see how this one is gonna turn out.

To self-help or not to self-help. That is what our culture has come to.

Have fun in Alaska!

Melissa Karnaze July 14, 2010 at 4:32 pm

Thanks Abubakar, so much of what I learned about this approach came from blogging itself!

lol Cory, I’m not one to build hype! Okay, when it comes to working with emotions, yes I am very guilty. :D

Chris Edgar July 14, 2010 at 5:48 pm

Hi Melissa — I appreciate you giving people the chance to contrast different “meta-views” on personal development that come from a sober, reasoned place — which I think has been missing for a long time from “meta-commentary” on self-development. Also, this will clearly give me a platform for doing lots of public debates about personal development and I’ll get to take on Hitchens and Ehrenreich next. :) (Well, okay, I guess Christopher Hitchens hasn’t written a PD-bashing book yet, but perhaps I can encourage him to do one so we can debate about it — if his health turns out okay, as I hope it does.)

Lexi July 14, 2010 at 10:13 pm

Great article! Where I live, people are always debating political issues, so this is great advice! Thanks!

Melissa Karnaze July 15, 2010 at 7:21 am

Chris, I think it’s very healthy to contrast viewpoints. Everything has a light and dark side, and it’s smarter to look at both. ;) I would also like to see more meta-discourse on all things personal growth, and I appreciate how you do so on your blog.

Lexi, you’re in a rich environment to really get intimate with your thoughts, beliefs, and what makes you you! Just like Chris mentioned, it’s about contrasting. When people vehemently argue “opposing” viewpoints, you can glean the similarities too. :P

the observer August 17, 2010 at 7:36 am

And what if the story has only one side because the truth is not allowed to be told and those that do know the truth are involved in the crime and thus are never truthful in telling the story?

Melissa Karnaze August 17, 2010 at 7:40 am

How would you know that the story has another side if those involved aren’t truthful in telling it?

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