How do you know who is telling the truth?
When you hear the sordid details of a heated argument, who do you believe? Are you inclined to trust the person you know better? Are you inclined to trust the person who speaks the calmest?
Or are you fixated by facts, and find yourself believing the story most credible?
The problem is with every story, there are three versions of the same events. The story from Person A, Person B and the truth. The problem is that the three very rarely align. Whilst there may be some overlapping facts, it’s impossible to know who is right.
Recently, Olivia, one of my girlfriends, put me in a very tricky situation. Shy of asking me to choose sides, she wanted my thoughts on the argument she had with our mutual friend, Weston.
It was petty. Friend versus a friend on who drank the last of the expensive champagne.
Olivia swears it was him. Black and blue, Weston was the culprit. He licked his lips as he swigged proudly from the dark green bottle. Weston blames her. She tipped the last into her glass, swilling it before anyone noticed.
Who was I to believe? How did I know who was telling the truth?
I’m the entire friendship jury right now and the verdict is out.
Facts Versus Feelings
In any classic debate, a professional debater will tell you that feelings aren’t facts.
The two are often confused, especially during emotional confrontations. The way you feel about the situation, the way the situation made you feel, doesn’t mean that’s what happened in the event.
These feelings often result in the narrative assumption, told by the opposing person. This is when we put words into people’s mouth, assuming what others are thinking and feeling when they haven’t articulated it themselves.
We do this by reading into body language, fixating on the use of certain words or phrases. And then projecting our own feelings onto the translation.
In the case of my friends, Weston invented Olivia’s reason for wanting the last drop. “She wanted it to make me jealous.” Jealousy. That’s an interesting thought. “Why does your friend want to make you jealous?” I asked. “Because that’s something she would think,” he responded.
It was the ‘would’ in this situation that made me doubt his version of events. It wasn’t ‘that’s what she said’. It was an assumption he made.
Would this argument of Weston’s stand up in court, I ask myself? No.
Facts Versus Memory
I remember watching a television show recently about eye witness testimonies. The show asserted that in modern law, eye witness testimonies are used less frequently as the sole evidence of a crime. The reason is that people’s memories deteriorate over time. They become distorted and memories fade.
And to prove my point, I can’t tell you exactly what show it was. Because I’ve forgotten the name of it.
When it comes to events, our memory is as fragile as names, places and dates. Easily forgettable.
We can distort the events to suit the situation we’re in too. If we want to believe something happened, we can change our memory to accommodate it.
Olivia’s memory of the events was completely different from Weston’s. She remembers them sitting in her kitchen, sharing the bottle. He remembers sitting at the kitchen island, and the champagne was in the fridge for most of the celebration.
The events are alike, but both warped their memories. They’re both different enough to for me to know they’re both wrong.
Would their memories stand up in court, I ask myself? No.
Facts Versus Argument
Both parties want to walk away from the situation in the right. It’s the human condition to avoid being wrong. We don’t like being the wrong person. We’re graded at school, wrong or right on the maths test. You make the wrong decision or the right one. You’re innocent or guilty.
So when we make the argument for our version of events, we add in what’s necessary to get the story over the line. We embellish events to be more dramatic than they were. We feed in our own observations that may or may not have happened. More of the feelings we mentioned earlier.
The argument is necessary for us to feel right.
When Olivia was describing the champagne incident, she kept mentioning that Weston was drunker than her. He was slurring his words, and she wasn’t. He was hiccuping when she hardly felt her head spin.
She is adding in these details that aren’t pertinent to the truth. They make you think her side is true. But that doesn’t mean what she is saying about the events are actual facts. It’s still possible she drunk the last of the champagne, despite being ‘soberer’ than him.
Would her observation of his behaviour stand up in court, I ask myself? Probably not.
Facts Versus Facts
At the end of the day, unless you are there or you have video evidence, the facts won’t ever see the light of day. That’s why I love the probability of reasonable doubt. There is always doubt with both sides of the story. But the facts don’t lie.
So how do we know who to believe?
Well, I don’t believe either of them. Both of their stories are wildly different, and affected by their own bias of each other. They have an agenda to be right, and no facts to prove otherwise, so I don’t believe either of them.
How do I give my verdict? I don’t. I’m Switzerland. I remain on the fence about their situation and let neutrality keep my friendship with both of them.
What I’ve learned in my life is that taking sides in an unbelievable argument is impossible. Because without the facts, taking sides makes you the bigger idiot.
Will we ever find out the truth? We will have to wait and see.
I’m Ellen McRae, writer by trade and passionate storyteller by nature. I write about figuring about love and relationships by analysing my experiences. Some of the stories are altered to protect the people in my life. But my feelings are never compromised.