Read Beyond the Headline

In recent months, we have observed an increasing amount of people rushing to judgment at a much faster pace than ever before. Now, all it takes is a headline, a picture, or even a meme, with no supporting content or context, for a person to automatically form an opinion and make a judgment. And, what’s worse is that he or she will stand firmly behind that judgment, sharing it incessantly with friends and defending it at all costs, without knowing the full story. For example, a friend recently shared a post about the Lincoln Memorial being defaced, with half of the statue’s head missing. This image, which was completely fabricated, was actually posted a few years ago to evoke an extreme emotional response. Today, although it is still as untrue as before, it found its way into the center of the unrest gripping our country. I have seen friends, all of whom are educated and typically rational individuals, share this horrible image without one thought as to the credibility of the post. 

Have we, as a society, become so lazy that memes and unconfirmed headlines on social media now constitute our education? Have we become so emotionally irresponsible that we are willing to share information that may or may not be true, thereby supporting a false narrative? It’s prudent to remember here that a headline is nothing more than a vehicle to entice people to read a story. It does not provide a foundation for any judgment whatsoever. To that end, my pastor said something this past weekend that stuck with me, “When we allow the narrative to be based on false information or lack of truth, we depart from an opportunity to create a dialogue in coming to together to solve a problem.” Isn’t that what we all want—to create solutions to our problems? Then, the question that begs answering is, “Why are we exacerbating the exact opposite?”

There Are No Absolutes

What most people are failing to realize is that there is no room for absolutes in dialogue that supports a true narrative. We must all come to the table, to a space that allows room for respectful debate and compromise. Only then can we begin to make progress and scratch the surface of real solutions. A quick rebuff of, “If you don’t agree with me, I’m getting up from the table and leaving the room,” is not going to cut it here. There are simply no absolutes. 

· Not all protests are violent. Peaceful protests are an effective way to collect and raise voices for a truth to be heard by the masses. Yet, some people choose to take advantage of this opportunity and spread hate by looting and destroying property. 

· Not all law enforcement officers are bad. There are thousands of men and women who risk their lives every day to protect us, complete strangers to them. Yet, some people take advantage of that gun and shield and do horrific things in their name. 

· Not all people wearing masks believe the economy should be shut down indefinitely and conversely, not all people refusing to wear them believe it shouldn’t. Yes, what you choose to wear should be your choice, but maybe not when we are in the middle of a global pandemic and are being advised otherwise by people we must trust to know better. 

With all of these, and so many more, the truth can only be found somewhere in between the absolutes. We need to work to find it, not just choose a side and stick with it because that’s what it seems the majority (at that time) is doing. Have enough confidence in yourself and your beliefs to stand up and fight for finding the truth, even though it may hurt and require harder work in doing so. 

Use Empathy to Find Solutions 

A conversation; a dialogue; a compromise; a solution—these all begin with empathy. We must have empathy for others and a firm understanding that in order to agree, sometimes we must peacefully disagree. It’s not always easy to step outside of ourselves, especially during times of disagreement and turmoil, to think about how others are feeling and to understand their motivations. Meet people where they are, know the real story, understand their true reality, not necessarily what their words say or their surroundings dictate. I have stood in a $10 million dollar home and settled a dispute and then stood in a $100 trailer with no electricity trying to ensure help so the kids could eat. Surroundings are irrelevant. With empathy, we have the ability to understand that we are all human, with the same underlying needs and wants. 

Individually, we each must work toward stopping this downward spiral within which our country seems to be spinning. We start by not allowing the negativity of any person—whether physically together, on a Zoom call, or on Facebook to enter our thoughts. We must use our own minds to listen, learn, and then understand what each person is really saying. We must get beyond their words and only then make an educated decision based on facts, not on a narrative that feeds a specific agenda. We must go beyond the headline or meme and be certain that if we do choose to share something, it is 100% true.

Former St. John’s County Sheriff Neil Perry would often say, “Do the right thing, at the right time, for the right reasons.” Sheriff Perry was a great leader. Now, that does not mean I always agreed with all of his decisions. It means I believe he always tried to do the right thing, and that is something I could stand behind. Remember, there are no absolutes. I can unequivocally say that he was a great leader without agreeing with every choice he made. In times like these, filled with false allegations and untruths, this distinction is crucially important. 

I pray for, and applaud, every single candidate who runs for any public office for the right reasons and has the emotional intelligence not to respond to, nor feed into, negativity. I also pray for, and applaud, every single one of you (including those who may not like me or think differently than me) who reads beyond the headlines, understands there are no absolutes, uses empathy to reach others, and works together to find the truth. I no longer want to see our nation driven by social media memes and headlines. I want us to use our minds and our empathy to spread truth, positivity, and understanding. As Bob Marley would say, “None but ourselves can free our minds.”

Please choose love, not hate. And please, read beyond the headline. 

Until next time, please take C.A.R.E. of yourself and those around you in as many ways as possible. 

For more information on this topic, visit One C.A.R.E. at a Time: Effective Leadership Through the Control of Emotions or