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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Don’t Let the Headline Effect Get You Down

Unfortunately people succumb to this headline effect all the time. One idiot, one bad actor, one headline and all of a sudden we’re all doomed as a human race.

This weekend I had an actual run-in with the police while doing my job as a realtor. I was showing a house to a potential buyer, but I was not told that the house had an alarm system. Enter “Officer Friendly,” stage left.

We realtors hate alarm systems. The fumbling with unfamiliar locks and keys, the high pitched shrieking and the time pressure. You have to find the keypad in unfamiliar territory and punch in the code correctly within a limited amount of time all while your buyer/client is watching you. Thank god for antiperspirant.

My Headline Experience

In all my years of “realting,” I’ve actually handled this nuisance flawlessly, but I always shudder when an alarm code is part of my showing instructions. This day I experienced the one thing that is worse than an alarm code: no alarm code. One incredible asshole of a sheriff shot an agent and it made the news and now *I’m* lucky?

I heard the familiar high pitched shriek, shuffled through my paperwork, and… nothing. No mention of an alarm, No code, and there goes the alarm. Great. I made light of it with my clients and we looked around the best we could.

In a couple minutes, the sheriff shows up. I come down the hallway and say “Don’t shoot! I’m a realtor!” We all laugh and the cop accepts my explanation. Clearly the house is for sale and clearly I have MLS paperwork indicating our appropriateness for being there.

I joked about it later on Facebook. Predictably, someone dug up a story from a year ago – some small town cop in rural Georgia shot a realtor under similar circumstances. My friend advised me to count myself lucky.

A year ago, out of all the times this happens in the whole country, one incredible jerk of a sheriff shot an agent and it made the news and now I’m lucky?

Sweetie, I’m not lucky. That other agent was terribly terribly unlucky.

The Anomalies

People often forget that the reason headlines are headlines is because they represent an eye popping anomaly. Out of the ordinary. Remarkable. Otherwise no one would care.

Actually, the fact that a cop once shot an agent when an alarm went off and it made the news should make me feel more safe in that situation, not less.

Be fair.

You cannot make such generalizations from headlines.

It’s like those man-on-the-street interviews where snarky journalists ambush people and asked them gotcha questions to demonstrate how stupid people are. They play these heavily edited videos to audiences that gasp at how stupid the populace is.

But wait a minute, there are more people in the audience than in front of the camera and they obviously have a clue about whatever topic. Otherwise they would not have reacted.

These bits wouldn’t be entertaining at all if a) the questions weren’t very general knowledge, and b) they couldn’t find either some wide-eyed ignoramus or someone who just blanks when a microphone is shoved in their face.

Reacting to Disingenuous Claims

Don’t judge broader intelligence by this kind of thing. The idiot is the anomaly. Don’t forget that. Give your fellow Americans a little credit. Don’t generalize based on headlines and the anomalies they highlight.

Worry when Jeopardy questions start getting stupid.

Similarly, don’t let headlines freak you out too much about the world. There are incredibly disturbing news stories out there about the violence people commit towards one another. As a mother especially, the stories of abuse and neglect of children get to me in a very visceral way. And one story always links to one even worse and you can have yourself a very depressing and emotional night if you keep reading and clicking…

When I get into the bleeding leadings I sometimes get this urge to curse all of mankind for being so cruel, so unimaginably hateful and evil. The anger and despair bubbles up inside me, but then I remind myself: these are the anomalies.

These are the headlines. This is unusual. Remember the usual and take comfort.

Most children are loved as fiercely as mine are by parents who are trying their very best. Most people are nice and good, to animals, to strangers, to each other. Most police officers are trying to make their mommas proud by doing the right thing. Most people could have a very intelligent conversation with you about several topics. Maybe they’re not the same topics you know about, but it’s something.

Look around you. Don’t generalize based on headlines and the anomalies they highlight to get your eyeballs popping and the share buttons viraling.

Unfortunately, people succumb to this headline effect all the time. One idiot, one bad actor, one headline, and all of a sudden we’re all doomed as a human race. Let’s give ourselves a little more credit. Let’s be realistic before we give up on our whole culture.

It’s when they stop writing about murder and rape and violence that we should worry.

  • Rachel served as Ron Paul’s communications director on Capitol Hill for 5 years. She is now a freelance-from-home wife and mom who writes extensively about gold and financial markets and occasionally consults on political campaigns, most recently for Sean Haugh for US Senate.