A good friend and I were chatting the other day about a complex situation we were concerned about. We had gathered information about the situation from a variety of sources, but when we compared notes, there were significant differences in opinions from those involved. We questioned aloud how the stories could be so different. Could one or more of the parties be purposefully lying to us?
While it is possible that one or more parties was being less than truthful, it seemed more likely that each side was giving the truth as they saw it. Often our perspective greatly influences how we perceive an event. For example, if someone jokingly says something us, but we thought they were serious, we become offended, even though it was only meant in jest. From our perspective, they were being mean, but from their perspective, they were only joking. Or if we overhear a piece of a conversation, what we think we heard may not be what we heard at all, no matter how convinced we are that it was. Or perhaps someone makes an offhand comment that we barely remember, but then months later something else is said that makes that offhand comment come back to mind, but now we hear that comment in light of the current situation, though that was not the context that it was said in at all. All of these misunderstandings can be cleared up with adequate communication when calm heads prevail. But in tense situations, those very same misunderstandings grow and morph into something much darker than they really are and make a bad situation even worse. Neither side is trying to lie; they simply view the same set of facts from different perspectives.
A good rule to follow is to make sure we do not assume we know what a person meant without asking them first. It is better to ask a clarifying question to make sure that what we thought we heard is what the other person meant to say. The more tense the situation, the more questions we should ask and the fewer answers we should assume we already know.
Another concept to remember in these type of situations is that sometimes we will never be able to sort out exactly who said what to whom and why. Sometimes people say things they do not mean. Other times they say things without realizing how it sounds to those around them. Even if we recorded what they said and played it back to them, they would not remember saying it, because at the moment it was said, it did not mean anything to them. When those who heard it interpret it through their own lens, their words no longer mean what they meant them to say. So it becomes pointless to try to get everyone to retract or restate their past comments. All we can do is clear up the present situation the best we can and move forward. We should ask all the questions we can, seek to understand the best we can, and endeavor to communicate better in the future and then offer the gift of forgiveness and move forward.
Dr. Terry W. Dorsett is a church planter and writer who has lived in New England for over 20 years. An energetic speaker, he often finds ordinary things in life to help him teach powerful truths from God's Word.