Steen

“In seeking truth, you have to get both sides of a story.”  ― Walter Cronkite

It was a pretty good photo, but something about it just didn’t sit well with me. I pulled it up on my monitor and zoomed in more closely. 

Ah, I saw the problem. The focus was actually on a spot just beside the subject. Thinking I had the target located, I locked in on a sure shot, but I see that I pushed the button too soon. I should have double-checked. Focusing on the wrong thing spoils the photograph, and when it happens in life, it spoils much more. 

Most people I know are good people, yet when I read what they write on social media or listen to what they say in a conversation, I have to step back and catch my breath. Heck, I’m guilty of it myself sometimes — I’m a passionate person, and when we are passionate, it’s easy to latch on to a story that feeds those emotions, especially if it confirms what we want to believe. 

I miss Walter Cronkite, but his wisdom is still with us — if we really want to know the truth, we have to look at the whole picture.

I think about children at school who don’t want to get in trouble and are quick to throw the blame on anyone else. Often, the teacher believes them. Or many of the stories on Perry Mason (an old television show); the character will swear that they didn’t do it, and then that one piece of evidence comes out that proves they had to have been the one, and then they break down, admitting the crime while justifying the actions. 

Sometimes, people tell a story so many times they believe it’s the truth. Whether stories in the world or the ones I sometimes tell myself about people in my life, and I think it was time to find a better way to search for the truth. I bet Walter would agree.

My research was on three items:

  1. 1.Why do people create stories?
  2. 2.Why do people believe stories?
  3. 3.How do we do a better job of knowing the difference between the story and the truth?

The first two questions have one answer: people (all of us unless we live in a land of make believe) want a way to define and understand reality. It’s just that simple. Most people do not think through possibilities, and they latch on to the first thing that sounds plausible.

There’s a lady walking down the street with an umbrella that looks just like mine. My umbrella is missing. She must have taken it. That’s the reality I’ve defined.

If we investigate, we might discover that she found it on the side of the road where someone had dumped it after breaking into my car. That is the truth.

 

If I create a story about my teenager coming in late, about my employee who took too long at lunch, or about my neighbor who trimmed our tree branches, it might make me feel that I know the truth, but I’ve really only created a “truth” for my convenience, and it might be totally false. I’ve seen a lot of that lately — people coming up with stories to fit their situations, to explain their reality, even when it isn’t the truth.

When people don’t like the explanation they hear for the cause of an event, they often look for someone who has a story that fits their needs. 

For instance, in 2010, a story was shared about an explosion on a plane. In one version of the story, the plane crashed with no survivors, but in a second version of the story, the pilot was able to successfully land the plane with no one being injured. 

It was just a story, part of a research project at Queen’s University in Ontario. The majority of people who heard the first story assumed it was the result of a terrorist attack or other intentional purpose. The people who heard the second story didn’t seem too concerned with it being more than an electrical malfunction. Have you done that in your own life?

The third question has two answers and leads me to the internet. We hear stories (many of which sound believable) that are not true, and with the help of the internet, we can dispel most of those pretty quickly.

Step 1 - look for facts - mediabias.com is a great place to see whether your sources are very credible, and truthorfiction.com is an old and dependable site to get help with information about hoaxes that are everywhere (think about the emails and phone calls that leave you wondering if someone really does have that personal information about you)

Step 2 - look for plausibility - if you hear that something is taking place in a large company or even within an entire country’s government, think about how likely it is that a large group of people could be pulling off something big without someone blowing their cover. This is where we get into conspiracy theories. When we are hungry for someone to explain things we don’t understand, it’s easy to let ourselves believe the most outrageous stories. We will almost always discover they have no real credibility when we start digging for the truth.

Whether I am telling myself stories about why my husband didn’t put the dishes in the dishwasher or wanting to explain a terrible plane crash, I need to step back and change my focus, look for  the facts and consider how likely it is that my created explanation could be true. 

In our homes or in the media, Cronkite’s words should always serve to remind us that both sides of a story are necessary to find the truth. I bet we’ll each get an opportunity soon to search for real truth instead of settling for the nearest accusation. I’m going to start searching for why people avoid the dishwasher.

Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Always, she writes from her heart in hopes of speaking to the hearts of others. 

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