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Perhaps our privacy settings are set too high

The past two weeks have been especially troubling for many in our community with the murder-suicide of Eric Schulthise and Bob Agnew. I knew the two men only by name and face and never spent a notable amount of time with either. But one only has to scroll through Eric’s lingering Facebook page to experience the disbelief, sadness and confusion that the news has invoked.

After learning of the event, I found myself reading Eric’s wall posts from heartbroken friends and colleagues and clicking through his photo albums for a good hour or more – trying to glean even one clue as to how this might have happened. Schulthise is described as “happy go lucky” and many commented on his captivating smile.

My attempt to peruse Agnew’s page was thwarted somewhat because his privacy settings only allow friends to view personal information. That’s when it hit me. Perhaps we have life’s privacy settings set too high these days.

How often is “fine” your response to “how’s it going?” Better yet, how often is your question, “how’s it going?” only a rote greeting with no intention to hear the response? So goes the conundrum of our extraordinarily busy lives, coupled with the idea that we should never burden our community with personal concerns. The truth is, in those quick, passing moments, it’s simply easier to not share what’s really going on. Think about it. It would be strange to actually say how it’s going when someone asks.

But consider what might have been different had Agnew said to someone, “Actually, things aren’t so good. I have been having these thoughts and I am concerned.” It likely would have created a very uncomfortable situation. Maybe the other person would have been caught off guard to say the least. Even so, things may have turned out differently. Compared to the pain many are grappling with right now, the discomfort experienced in those few seconds seems worth it.

I don’t mean to over-simplify an obviously complex situation. And I am not suggesting that you spill your life story to every single person who says hello to you. (That would be absurd.) What I am advocating is a community with a little less drive for “looking good” and a little more authentic concern for one another. I am advocating a new level of awareness in our casual, everyday conversations and interactions.

Perhaps we could all be less stigmatized by our own true thoughts; and stop buying into the idea that we must demonstrate the perfect, problem-free life. Maybe if Agnew had felt he could express himself without judgment, he could have saved two lives by letting someone know what he was dealing with. In other words, perhaps things would be different if our privacy settings weren’t so rigorous.

When something like this happens, we are not only left with sadness, anger, and a myriad of questions.

We are also left with a choice: we can choose to grieve and move on; or we can choose to grieve and take note of a lesson or two that could prevent this from happening again.

It’s no one’s fault. What happened, happened. But looking forward, how’s it going?

Arlon Jay Staggs received his Doctor of Jurisprudence degree from Mississippi College School of Law in 2000. He is a professional writer, business owner, professor, and activist. Even though his opinions are usually spot-on, they are not necessarily the views of SDGLN.com. He can be reached at: arlonjay@arlonjay.com.