There are Two Sides to Every Story (Somewhere in the middle lies the truth.)
In life, you will find two sides to most stories. This truth exists brazenly in my work-life in law enforcement; giving credit to some stories and less belief in others.
One of the greatest pieces of advice that I ever received was shared with me within the first few years of my career. In speaking of interviewing an individual, my chief exclaimed that we needed to, “Trust, then verify.” This advice has served me well, on and off the job, since taking that bit of advice to heart.
“Trust, then verify.”
What had my chief meant by this? Is it simply a nice way of saying, “I know you’re lying, so I’m going to check out your story.” I don’t think so. It’s saying that I am giving the person the benefit of the doubt, even if the situation appears questionable.
Give me a moment to step out of my glass house and admit to struggling with this at times.
From having my children stretch a tale, to having someone share their version of events that fly in the face of common sense, giving someone the benefit of the doubt and then verifying their story is, well, human (or at least it should be).
In my job, I’ve had situations where a person has told me a story and I’ve simply responded, “Okay.”
They asked, “That’s it?”
I would shrug, “Yep, as long as you’re telling me the truth, we don’t have a problem. But after looking into this, if your story doesn’t hold up, then we will have a problem.”
There have been a number of times that the person has then interrupted as I continued my investigation and said, “Hey, can I talk to you?” Then the truth flowed, or at least a little better version of the truth.
Then again, there have been more times the story hasn’t changed, the person sticks to their story, they decide to ride it out and gamble on me putting the pieces together. Frustrating. However, it seems to be human nature; looking for an out to a bad situation.
Should this change my view or how I treat people? I hope not. I’ve been doing this for 23 years now and I feel like my view of the “public” has taken a slow and positive climb.
In the beginning, everyone was guilty (in my mind). If you didn’t do it, then I wouldn’t be talking to you right now. Over time I developed a sense of empathy. Let’s make sure and clear up what empathy means. Empathy is not sympathy.
Empathy gave me the ability to understand the “why” of the situation. It did not lessen the wrong, but it gave me perspective. Why does this matter? Simple, it better served the community (I believe) and it better served myself and my family.
It’s obvious as to how this would benefit the community. For all the reasons you are thinking right now. The additional benefit was in how I treated my own family, giving them the benefit of the doubt and at least hearing out their reasons for their actions. It may not have lessened the punishment at the time, though it sure made the bitter pill a little less painful for them to bare.
It’s benefited me in a number of ways. The greatest gain was working toward restoring my faith in those around me. Not worrying that someone was going to “get something over” on me. Not worrying that I appeared naive. Both of which are unhealthy and unnecessary, self-imposed burdens to carry.
Now that I’ve made myself look like such an awesome guy (I feel better, don’t you?), know that this continues to be a work in progress. Luckily, I’ve been held in check by some good people that have the permission to call me out when necessary (if you’re not sure if you’re one of them, then you’re probably not…just saying).
The best example of an awesome hip-check into the humble boards (hockey reference) was by my wife. Years ago she set the tone with a “look” and then declaring, “I’m not on your caseload.” No exclamation point needed. I got it.
For the record, she’s on the “permission to call me out” short list.
I hope you considered your own bouts with empathy and how you treat the world. If you read this and thought, “What a neanderthal. I’ve been doing this for years!” Well, good one on you champ! If you read this and thought, “Great ideas, this guy is a genius!” Well, super-good on you for being so kind!
Good luck and fight the good fight.
Also published on Medium.