Writing Headlines and Believing the Best in People

“Study Confirms Most People Share Articles Based Only On Headlines.”

I clicked on this article at Patheos.Com after searching for “Do people only read headlines?” on Google. The article confirmed that 59% of all links shared on social media aren’t clicked on. So we’re just basically reading headlines.

I get it, I mean, we are all guilty of it. I personally won’t share anything that I haven’t read but I’m also a super busy millennial, so I will often find myself skimming… and while I’m skimming, I’m also thinking about ten other things. So sometimes I might as well have just read the headline for all I absorbed.

That’s our generation, isn’t it? We are bombarded with ads and articles and posts and shares and stories and so we have no choice but to turn on a mega filter in our brains so that we can download what we need to quickly and move on.

But this post is an exercise in empathy and I’m getting off track. So I want to pause where we’re at right now and just confirm: we’re pretty familiar with the world of headlines.

A few months ago, I read an article with a headline that said, “A mom confronted her son’s classmates over bullying and was arrested for it.”

A mom of a third grade boy confronted her child’s bullies at school because the administration wasn’t giving her son the help he asked for. I wondered how I would have felt if that had happened. What would have been my breaking point? When my son was called stupid? Or ugly? When he came home crying for the 10th day in a row? There were rights and there were wrongs from both sides in the article but in the end, I rewrote the headline. I rewrote the headline two different ways. One was to pin the internet against her and one was to rally support. This is what it looked like.

“Bullies push boy to the edge and mom steps in to save the day when school refuses to step in.”

“Crazy mom wreaks havoc on school campus and people are calling for her arrest.”

I looked at the two headlines and wondered if I would have been instantly on her side if I had read the first one or if I would be instantly against her if I had read the second one. What if someone was writing headlines for my life? Would I look just as crazy as the people we see online? Or would I look like an everyday hero like I saw online too?

So I started doing this all the time. When I would hear about a woman who was caught stealing from the grocery store, I’d write the headline, “Woman Risks It All So Her Children Won’t Starve.” Then I write, “Woman Thinks She Doesn’t Have To Pay For Things Like The Rest Of Us.

It almost became like an exercise. I started doing it with my own actions too. If I was speeding down the highway, I’d write “Local woman goes 10 over to avoid being late for a meeting because she’s just so reliable and punctual!” and then I’d write, “Local moron puts us all in danger.

This process of writing the best possible headline and the worst possible headline made me realize two things:

1. It’s a lot nicer, easier, and peaceful to believe the good is true.

2. This is an awesome exercise in empathy.

I was listening to Brene Brown recently and she talked about believing the best in people. She said her husband recently said something along the lines of, “I don’t always know if it’s true but I know that my own life is better when I believe the best intentions in people.”

So when someone cuts you off on the highway, it’s so much easier on your mental and emotional well being to just assume that person is en route to the hospital to see their first baby being born. Is it true? Maybe… maybe not. But is it better to assume they’re jerks who are out to make your life miserable and so you speed after them blasting your horn, weaving in and out of traffic while shouting profanity? No, man. Not even a little.

Have you ever been that guy?

I’m betting you’ve been both. The same situation with two different reactions. One where you wave them through and think, “Shoot, guy, I hope you get where you’re going!” and one where you shout and honk and speed up so they can’t get through.

Doesn’t waiving them through and not letting it phase you feel so much better?

Believing the best in people isn’t always for them, it’s mostly for you.

Another miraculous thing happens when you believe the best in others and that is that they will want to be better for you. They want to live up to the standard you believe them to be at.
When you believe the worst in people, they feel shame. They feel misunderstood. They close up. They shut down. That little spark that makes them unique and bright and colorful starts to dim.

This is an exercise. You might be bad at it at first but you’ll get better. Start wringing those headlines in your mind. The best possible headline and worst possible headline. For you and for others. Then see if believing the good ones are true makes your world better.

Denise Karis is an Arizona photographer who enjoys musicals, Doctor Who and breakfast burritos. IG @denisekaris

Denise Karis Blog Creating Headlines and Believing the Best in Others

Thanks to Branden Harvey Via Unsplash for the rad newspaper photo!