fill in the blank

A young man told me a story the other day. It was a sobering tale… deep, involved, lots of layers… ample emotion, too. There is zero doubt in me that he shared what he believed to be true. I’ll admit, it was a hard story to hear. I was grateful for his sharing, and especially, for his indisputable honesty. I learned much.

I then met soon another who had shared the experience with the young man. It was equally sobering… also deep, involved, lots of layers, emotion, etc. He, too, was no doubt sharing what he believed to be true. It was equally hard to hear. I indeed learned even more. And the two distinct angles, one from each person, when compared with one another, totally made sense together. It was clear how both were laced with sincerity and truth.

There was only one problem. 

They were two very different stories. Two disparate accounts of what happened as a part of the same, exact experience.

The reality is that like no doubt most days in life, two people were in the same place at the same time and walked away with two different impressions of what happened.

Hence, today’s zillion dollar question is fairly simple: can two different impressions both be true?

Can two people walk away from the same experience with contrasting reactions but neither be lying? Can both be sincere? And both be telling the truth?

We’ve heard such said about the so-called “6” on the sidewalk. One walks toward it from the right. He sees a “6.” Not only does he see it, he’s sure of it. He believes it’s a “6,” knows it’s a “6,” and he therefore confidently tells his friends honestly about the authentic “6” that he saw.

Another comes from the left. He clearly sees a “9.” There is no doubt it’s a “9.” He knows it’s a “9.” He’s seen it with his own two eyes; therefore nothing and no one could tell him otherwise. He, too, shares proudly with those in his presence. After all, there is zero question in his mind that he is sharing truth.

And here’s what makes it harder…

If I only heard the perspective of the “6” see-er, I would believe the “6.”

Same for the “9.” If I only hear from him, oh you bet; that’s what I believe.

Thus when I hear perspective from others regarding far more than an exemplary numerical sighting, the same principle applies. 

If we only hear a singular perspective, passionate and sincere as the sharer may be, there is a reasonable possibility that another angle could also be true. But if we never hear that angle, we will be unaware of what we do not know. We may even make some unknowingly wrong conclusions.

Hence, there is wisdom in restraint.

Way too often we feel way too free to fill in the blank. 

When there exist gaps in our knowledge, we fill in the gaps. We assume we can. We assume we know enough. We assume there is absolutely nothing wrong about it. As what else could it be?

We know enough… right?

And in said approach, we assume there’s only one right way to see the so-called “6” on the sidewalk. We will have forgotten that from another approach, if we’re willing to go there — to walk in the shoes of another, so-to-speak — a different, contrasting conclusion is equally as legitimate.

I admit, that’s not always easy. Not convenient either. It takes time, discernment and sometimes a willingness to hold the uncomfortable… especially when the emotion of another completely resonates with me. 

But it’s also often the only wise way forward…

It’s simply wisest to forgo the temptation to fill in any blank, luring as such may sincerely be.