There’s bit of an upheaval amongst US viewers right now as two contestants (both pastors) have walked out on the popular show The Biggest Loser. Apparently, they’ve been made out to be the bad guys in this and viewers are left wondering what really happened. Matthew McNutt, another former contestant and also a (youth)pastor, wrote a couple of blog posts about it and expressed his conviction that what everyone saw, was only one side of the story.
I haven’t actually watched any of this, since I’m based in Europe, but I came across the story and was interested by the tactics the production company apparently used to make people look bad. Matthew described a couple of examples in which selective or even downright false editing is used to give a wrong impression of people. It’s a powerful reminder that even what we see with our own eyes isn’t necessarily the truth.
It reminded me of a well-known saying: there are two sides to every story.
It’s the golden rule for journalism and more than one newspaper or magazine has gotten into trouble for breaking it: you have to get both sides of the story. When writing about someone, you are obliged to ask him or her for a reaction, even if the evidence against them is seemingly convincing. People have a right to defend themselves, to give their version of what happened, to share their side of the story.
In youth ministry, we are often confronted with ‘stories’. Teens tell us things about their parents. Parents share stories about their teens. Volunteers tell us what someone else did or said, not to mention the countless stories we hear about the pastor or what someone else supposedly said about us.
But we have to remember: there are two sides to every story.
Before we do anything with what people tell us, we have to make sure we have the full picture. We have to be certain that we have heard both sides of the story, because things may not quite be what they seem at first. People may have had a reason for acting the way they did, that we know nothing about. The other may have provoked or there may even be a complete history we’re not aware of.
I’ve made this mistake myself a couple of times: taking action based on a one-sided account. And I’ve been wrong at times, when it turned out there was indeed another side to the story that I didn’t know, but that did change matters.
We need to have both sides to a story.
So the next time that someone tells you a story of something that supposedly happened, make sure you get both sides of the story, or even all sides of the story. I think the only exception to the rule of getting both sides of a story is when you are legally required to take action, like when youth tells you they’re being abused or molested. You can then leave it to the authorities to investigate and get the story straight. In all other cases: make sure all parties are being heard before you decide or do anything…and especially before you judge or worse, condemn.