He Said, She Said

“He who only knows his side of the argument, knows very little of that.”

This paraphrased quote, borrowed from utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill, speaks to the idea of the importance of counter arguments. It is impossible to render a verdict until both sides of the argument have been provided and explained, no matter how strongly one may feel about an issue. Many of my students have changed their minds over an important matter after they were forced to argue the opposite side of their (seemingly) preferred position.

I would contend the same holds true in our interpersonal relationships. That is to say that when a friend is having trouble in a relationship and are explaining this relational strife to you, I would extend this idea that he who only hears one side of the story, does not know the story at all, or, at the very least, very little of it.

So when someone recently was explaining to me the plight of their friend who was “screwed over” by their now ex-husband, my first reaction was as to whether or not they had heard the ex’s side of the story. Exasperated that I did not immediately just buy into the “victimhood” and plight of her friend, we just decided to drop the conversation. What she wanted to hear was, “That no good, dirty bastard!” Of course he may be, yet I have lived long enough to know a scorned human being is rarely an objective one, perceptions jaded by the scabs of deep wounds.

This is not to suggest I believe such people to be lying, rather they are experiencing the situation through hurt and prejudiced senses, lacking the ability to perceive their own personal responsibility, if there is indeed some to be found, and, in my experience, there usually is some.

This is not a gender issue. I have heard a myriad of men speak to the misery unleashed by their former significant female other and I refuse to believe such a demonization until I have heard what their now-nemesis and former lover has to say; after all, men and women typically have different antennas. However this is only if I am requested to render a conclusion at all. Often times I just sit silent and think to myself what the other he or she would have to say…most frequently no response neither requested nor necessary.

Same for the “he said, he said” and “she said, she said” crowds. Hell, even for the “they said, they said” relationships.

All of us human beings just love to fill-in-the-blanks of unknown, missing and incomplete information.


Perhaps in our quest to empathize with those we love we forsake THE truth for the sake of HER or HIS truth?

Could it be both sympathy and/or empathy are superior to truth seeking?

Ah, my place, tensionland.

Rene’, my partner for over 40 years, and I have always said that if one of us declared in a court of law the 4 or 5 worst things we have ever done or said to each other in these past 4 decades, we would both be able to paint a pretty awful picture of each other…without uttering one single lie and no trace of perjury to be found.  40 plus years is a hell of a long time to be picture perfect for your partner. To catch someone and declare them guilty in their few worst moments, when thousands of best moments abound, is both inaccurate and unfair. And if you know what I think of my partner, that is fairly eye opening.

I must admit to being skeptical towards one who feels the need to express their ill will towards a former lover at all in the first place. Why? Are they seeking said empathy? Or trying to abdicate their personal responsibility and personal poor behavior over their role in the dissolution of the relationship? By painting a horrible and terrible picture of a former partner are they attempting to justify their own poor choices?

I would contend it is frequently the latter, and perhaps, at times, the former. Maybe both.

Does empathy outweigh truth-seeking?  One could argue THE truth will likely never be known in any case, so why not love on and console a hurt loved one? Or does truth-seeking keep both parties responsible for their role in the failed relationship, hence coming to terms with their own reality and culpability? This may provide a good opportunity to look in the relationship mirror at our own shortcomings.

Of course, the answer to these questions is purely on a case-to-case basis, while one “empathy vs. truth seeking” size does not fit all.

In any case, before we go ahead and demonize anyone, we may want to hear the other side of the story, as he who only knows one side, knows very little of that.







  1. I’ve found that a lot people almost want to live in their hurt. It seems like they want to feel better by putting the person who hurt them down, whether it’s through things they say or the way the hurt person ends up acting towards others.
    While feeling hurt and anger can be and is usually valid, it shouldn’t be left to stew. I’ve found that negative feelings left simmering changes people.
    Something I’ve always heard was that there are three sides to a story, the two people’s viewpoints and the truth.

    • Thank you Tore! As I wrote this blog I was thinking of every person I have known that has been hurt very badly in a relationship and how they could take issue with this blog entry, as in they believe they have very justified anger and have been truly victimized beyond any doing of their own. And I do believe these people do exist. However, at the very least, unless someone put a gun to their head and forced them to be in a relationship with the abusive person, they can take some responsibility for being complicit in the development of the relationship in the first place. Perhaps the, “I never saw what was coming” idea can make us more accountable in seeing others in a more realistic and less romantic way. And if you know me, I do believe in the practice of choosing a partner in a practical manner and much less in a “soulmate” kind of way.

  2. Jimmy, I found in the course of writing Dear Mom and Dad, that the first draft was literally loaded with what my grandmother would have called, “Oh poor me. Ain’t it awful.” characterizations of relationships and situations. In other words it was just a bunch of one sided crap, Then it occurred to me what a totally pathetic person, a bitter and sad liar I would appear to be if the people I wrote about read what I had written. It was at that point that I realized that if I actually got published it would be critically important that I get down and dirty honest with myself about my part in the relationships I had written about. It was not a pretty picture. But it was the most freeing, emotionally and mentally uplifting exercise I had ever experienced; bearing an even greater impact than when I took my fifth step in AA. I highly recommend the exercise to anyone who finds themselves faced with the dissolution of a relationship. Sit down and write your version as though you were testifying in court and had just sworn to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth,

  3. After reading this blog post, my opinion has altered slightly. Before, I use to only hear one side of the story and went off that view. I always knew there was an other side but i felt choosing a friend of mines was the right thing to do. As I grow/get older I like to try and view from both sides or just simply not care… lol

  4. I find that he said she said is often the most commonly used argument tool in today’s day and age, it seems to me (assertion) that most people never look for the facts but only want to be right.

  5. “In any case, before we go ahead and demonize anyone, we may want to hear the other side of the story, as he who only knows one side, knows very little of that”- This is so true as i ponder over my life and how i have handled situations where a close friend or family member has brought complaint about what they are going through or gone through in their various relationships. There’s always a tendency to naturally sympathize with your loved one while demonizing the other party without hearing their own side of the story. After going through the blog, I now realize how selfish and judgmental i have been and will henceforth apply the wisdom learnt from this piece to my day to day dealings with whoever i come i contact with when it comes to any complaint..brought to me about strife or issues in a relationship. A passage in the Holy Bible says: “Wisdom is profitable to direct…” .We all need to hear the the entire sides to a narrative before jumping to conclusions or taking sides..there are always two sides to a coin.

    • Thank you James! It is a natural human tendency to jump to the defense of those within our “monkeysphere” (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunbar%27s_number for a great discussion on why humans are only capable of truly caring for a limited number of people). As suggested in the blog, sometimes the act of defending and supporting a loved one is in everyone’s best interest…but not always.

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