Telling Both Sides of the Story

The following text will be published as a “My Turn” column in the October 4, 2023 issue of the Capital-Democrat, a local newspaper serving Sioux County in Iowa.

In our increasingly tribalistic us-versus-them culture, in which so many Americans believe that “me and my people” (e.g., my Church, my religious denomination, my political party, my circle of friends) have captured the complete truth about any controversial issue and “those other folks” have captured none of that truth, it is becoming increasingly difficult to convince anyone that there may be a contrary belief that differs from the story my people tell.

A glaring example of this problem is a claim made by Senator Tim Scott from South Carolina, a Republican presidential hopeful for 2024.  Scott asserts, based on his own experience, that everyone in America, independent of race/ethnicity and gender, has an equal opportunity to realize the American dream of forging a successful life in America.

But there is another side to that story.

I do not discount Scott’s story. I am glad that this has been his good experience. And he is not alone. In the late 1920s, two immigrants from Norway came separately to the United States, fleeing rampant poverty in their homeland, where they met and married in Brooklyn, New York and forged a strong middle-class life for themselves and their twin sons. My parents could echo Tim Scott’s story of successfully realizing the American dream.

But there is another side to that story. Countless African-Americans can tell painful stories of how they and their ancestors have suffered from the legacy of slavery, experiencing many forms of hatred, violence and discrimination. Tim Scott does not tell that side of the story about the experiences of numerous members of his race. Why is that, when that other side to the story is undeniable? Is it possible that Senator Scott does not mention the truth about these atrocities because he fears that to do so will lead to him losing votes from the Trump base he hopes to attract? That side of the story also needs to be told.

My root assumption is that because we all have differing life stories to tell, each of which may contain some truth about the issue at hand, we can best approximate the “whole truth” about that issue if we give a voice to those who, because of their unique stories, may have points of view that we can learn from that the other person has missed.

It will require a lot of courage (and humility) for a politician, on either side of the political aisle, to encourage those in his/her political camp to seriously listen to and consider the “possible truths” contained in the stories being told by those in the opposing political party, and a politician who exercises such courage may well not be elected or re-elected. But it is the right thing to do, especially for those politicians who profess commitment to the Christian faith.

I dare to make this claim because in all my attempts to orchestrate loving and respectful conversations among those who have strong disagreements about contentious issues, I never tire of sharing my belief that, for those readers who profess commitment to be followers of Jesus, creating “safe and welcoming spaces” for such conversations to take place is a deep expression of the love for others to which Jesus calls all who aspire to be his followers.

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