Proverbs 18:17: One Side of the Story

“The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” Proverbs 18:17 (ESV)

Cross-examination is a key element of our justice system. A lawyer can craft a compelling story, peppered with supporting evidence, that appears to reveal the hidden motive of the defendant and their role in perpetrating a crime such that the jury is ready to drag the accused to jail themselves. This certainty often fades when the defense attorney rises and tells an equally compelling but different story, disputes the prosecution’s use of the evidence and perhaps reminding the jury of evidence that casts doubt on the prosecution’s case, and presenting another interpretation of the defendant’s life that either justifies their action or disputes their involvement. The jury mentally puts down the torches and pitchforks and cautiously considers what the truth could be.

The American adversarial judicial system prevents the problem highlighted in the proverb. Our passions can be ignited by one side of the story leading to regrettable actions because we neglected important facts. What seems like an obvious course of action built on logic leads to serious and expensive tactical mistakes. It is easy, but lazy, to defer to a confident and knowledgeable person when we should react with skepticism and due diligence. The person may be correct but they should be proved correct.

Sales presentations

People make poor decisions in their personal finances and business by falling for well-designed sales presentations and advertisements. Many people have timeshares and other “investments” (Beanie Babies) that they cannot unload because they succumbed to the logic and appeal of an inspiring presentation, time pressure (“this deal ends today”), trusted a salesperson and organization they didn’t really know, and they didn’t read the agreement. The best salespeople and sales organizations are trained in psychology and use this knowledge to design the pitch. I’m not criticizing the approach but reminding you to be aware that the car salesperson and telemarketer has been trained with many crafted scripts to address our concerns, questions, and rejections. They have an answer for everything that will appeal to your pride, anxiety, and insecurity. I’ve been through sales training where you are taught to create and then solve FUD: fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

I am not anti-sales. On the contrary, sales is what drives the economy and starts commerce. Through sales we learn of products that we really need that we didn’t know existed, medications that can help us with serious issues, and solutions to problems we want solved. However, in most cases there are multiple solutions or products that can fulfill our need  and we do not need to “buy now.” Buying from the first pitch without considering what another vendor has to offer or listening to another expert who highlights potential issues with the initial offer is foolish. More information will help clarify your needs, evaluate what is really offered, and provide insight on alternative products and solutions that may be a better fit or help you negotiate a better deal.

Personal relationships

The wisdom of the proverb will also help us with conflict in the workplace and our private lives. A manager or friend will be approached by a person who is having problems with another person. They will weave a tale of unfair treatment and unkind words and explain situations that have caused this person distress. Being the good friend or manager you confront the other individual about their accidental or intentional injustice. You may be surprised and embarrassed when you find the person is offended and insulted by your accusations and tells a compelling story that counters the first person’s account, supplies important information the other person neglected to mention, and even has witnesses that supports their view of events. Far from solving a problem, you created a bigger problem that existed before and now you have a starring role in the drama.

Although we want to be a good leader or loyal friend, we must remember that one side of the story is always imperfect. It is usually foolish to get involved in another person’s disagreement though we can provide godly counsel to help them resolve the conflict. The other person may see the same situation differently. Our view is colored by many things: experience, worldview, age, gender, personality, and many more characteristics. We filter our view through these things and respond accordingly. If you must intervene because you are a manager, make sure you get lots of information, ask follow up questions, look for evidence or information that provides some clarity, then act in the way that seems appropriate to the situation. But don’t react to one side of the story.

Success myths

Many business titans and successful people in many fields have a success myth. It comes out in interviews, is the subject of articles and books, and the person may even cite the one or two things that made them a success. Author Ryan Holiday begins his book “Ego is the Enemy” by telling his own success story then promptly reveals the important information left out that also contributed to his success and things that made him successful in one area that led to failures in another. He concludes by warning readers of CEO biographies and business success books that these stories, based in reality, are still myth. Important elements are missing. For every billionaire founder who skipped college and followed their passion to create a powerful company there are hundreds or thousands who followed the same path to poverty. We hear about the success stories but failures do not make headlines.

Glean what wisdom you can from success stories but realized that there are important nuances and situational differences that also contributed to the outcome. Perhaps they developed a product that hit at the right time, hired key individuals that contributed more to the success that is recognized, and had more luck than they are willing to acknowledge. You will not be able to mimic their success by doing everything they say they did. Someone can point out how they wrongly assessed the reason for their success, succeeded despite what they did, or how what led them to success in the past could lead to failure for them, or you, in the future.

The world is very complex though we desperately want it to be simple and will reach for simple solutions or obvious answers. But to be personally and professionally successful we must give kind attention to what we hear, but turn an investigative and skeptical eye to see what we are missing and what more we need to know. The story may be good, but wait to hear the other side of the story.

I Thought You Were A Christian

Those words stung hard as they slammed me deep in my chest. The look of disappointment in her eyes and the sword of truth from her tongue hit its mark. “I thought you were a Christian.” I thought I was though it was obvious I didn’t act like one. Remember, saying “God knows my heart” to a concern does not address the fruit in your life that led someone to express that concern. Perhaps if you knew your heart as God knew your heart you wouldn’t be doing some of the things that cause godly friends to be concerned.

Those words stung hard as they slammed me deep in my chest. The look of disappointment in her eyes and the sword of truth from her tongue hit its mark. “I thought you were a Christian.” I thought I was though it was obvious I didn’t act like one.

This scene took place after a trip home from church to the college I attended. I usually had students ride with me to the church I attended about 20 minutes away. This Sunday morning there were a few friends and this girl who I didn’t know well but needed a ride. During this time Purple Rain by Prince was popular and I had both the soundtrack and a loud stereo system. This was probably the tamest of Prince’s work but that is not a high standard. As we were driving home we were blasting the tape (yes kids, a cassette) and sheSad Man Silhouette Worried On The Beach was obviously not enjoying it. My friends were enjoying it, singing loudly and I recall her voicing some displeasure and requesting a music change. Being an arrogant twit at times (mostly to cover my anxiety and low self-esteem) and in a somewhat dark place emotionally, I turned it louder and made some smart remarks. A particularly rude song came on and I didn’t change it and was more of a jerk.

The short trip was over and we made it to campus. We got out of the car, she came around, cocked her head as if asking a question and in a tone that was neither hurt or angry, but matter-of-fact said, “I thought you were a Christian.” I don’t remember if I mumbled an apology then but I remember feeling the impact of the much needed rebuke.

How I didn’t react

I could have bowed up and said, “Are you perfect?” I could have cited anything I knew about her (I didn’t know her well) that might indicate that at sometime she didn’t make a perfect choice. Then I could have said that we are all broken and that none of us are going to live perfect and the grace of God would cover our sins. However, whether she was perfect or not didn’t matter to my sin under discussion and we shouldn’t continue in sin that grace might abound.

I could have taken her to task for judging me. “Judge not…” I could quote and certainly show her the flaw in trying to tell me how to live my life. Yet I would have to hope that she wouldn’t quote the rest of the passage or other passages that encourage Christians to make righteous judgment and to make attempts to rescue our fellow Christians who are wandering away from God, which requires judgment based on the fruits of their lives we can see that sprout from the heart that only God sees. I was a jerk and she was being a loving fellow Christian asking me to consider how my actions contradicted my claim.

I didn’t ignore her.

How I did react

I don’t remember who it was but I remember what she said even now about 30 years later. I thought about my actions and her words and knew she was right. I don’t remember if I apologized to her then but I believe I apologized to her later (or both times). I remember feeling sorrowful for my sinful behavior, conceit, and not being considerate to her. I resolved to make better choices and ultimately made different friends that were more encouraging of what was right.

I never forgot the words. Maybe she knows who she is and remembers the event and the conversation and might read these words. If so, she can reach out or remain anonymous but she can know that I never forgot her loving rebuke and I think about it when I am tempted to act in a way that does not represent Christ or glorify the Father. For this I am grateful.

How will you react?

How will you react when someone sends you a text, message, email, calls you, or confronts you in person about something they think you are doing wrong?

  • Are you going to turn on them for trying to turn you back to the right way?
  • If you think you are not in the wrong, are you going to calmly discuss this with them with an open heart and open Bible to determine whether you are in the wrong or not?
  • Will you be sympathetic if they didn’t have all of the information or perhaps jumped to conclusions to give them the whole story (perhaps helping them to have better judgment) but thanking them for having the courage to confront you about it?
  • Are you going a berate them and flame them for daring to say a negative thing about you (note: this is a good way to drive away anyone who can help you be a better person, even if their concern is wrong)?

Remember, saying “God knows my heart” to a concern does not address the fruit in your life that led someone to express that concern. Perhaps if you knew your heart as God knew your heart you wouldn’t be doing some of the things that cause godly friends to be concerned. Your friends could be wrong, but you could be wrong.

I’m thankful I listened to her and that I had someone who cared for my soul more than they cared for my feelings.

Choose Friends With Care

One of our strongest influences is our friends.  The friends we choose will help us draw closer to God or go farther away from Him.  There are good examples like Cornelius in Acts 10 who invited his friends to hear the gospel.  There are bad examples like the friends of Rehoboam, in 2 Chronicles 10, who gave Rehoboam bad advice which cost him most of the kingdom.

Proverbs 12:26 and 22:24-25 warns us to choose our friends carefully since the wicked can lead us astray.  Most people are familiar with 1 Corinthians 15:33:  “Evil company corrupts good habits.”  When our closest friends are people who do not share our faith, priorities, and principles, we create the potential for many conflicts and unnecessary tests of our faith.

 We should not abandon friendships with non-Christians, but should make our closest companions (who are in greater positions of influence) those who share our values and priorities.  Some have lost their faith by associating with very worldly people thinking, “I will change them.”  However, it is often the child of God who is changed, and usually for the worse.  Paul prefaces his “evil companions” warning of 1 Corinthians 15:33 with “Do not be deceived.”  It is easy for us to deceive ourselves and think that others cannot corrupt us.

Good friends can greatly strengthen us.  Proverbs 27:17 teaches that good friends can improve one another as iron sharpening iron. We should choose our closest friends from the children of God.  They understand the trials that we face, the importance of service to God, and the principles that guide our lives.  By our mutual associations, we can encourage one another to do what is right, Hebrews 10:24-25.