Privacy & The Death of Community

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Yesterday, something tragic happened to one of our neighbors. There was police tape everywhere and police all over their yard. I went out to speak with one of the officers that was next to our yard and he really couldn’t tell me anything at all. Some years ago I would have known that officer by name and he would have known me. We would have had a very open conversation about what happened with our neighbor. What is more, we would have known that neighbor better and the whole community would have been out in our yards talking about what happened. Instead, the story makes the local news for a couple of news cycles and then just goes away. We tried reaching out to this couple but they were reclusive. They wanted their privacy. They didn’t want anyone in their business and know I guess I know why. It is a shame.

Another place privacy is emphasized is in our hospitals. Privacy is highly valued in our hospitals. In hospitals, privacy has moved from a value to a right in the passing of HIPAA regulations. There is one hospital in our city that will not tell you whether or not someone is a patient there over the phone. If you walk in the door and ask at the desk they will tell you if they are there. We asked why that was their policy and they told us that over the phone they wouldn’t know if we had a bomb or something. I wondered if they figured they could tell if we had one just by looking at us in the lobby. It makes no sense. What is more, making it difficult for ministers and family to find out about their loved ones decreases the amount of social and spiritual support those patients are going to receive. On the flip side it probably reduces infections too though, right?

Bottom line, we value privacy often to the detriment of our communities. We want distance, boundaries and slow the flow of information or information at the pace I want it to be released at. We do that because we value our privacy. Now, that is not all bad. Privacy is important. I don’t think any of us want all kinds of people knowing every detail of our lives. The problem is not privacy but how far we have swung the pendulum resulting in a growing disconnect in our communities so that we really don’t know each other any more. It is entirely possible to have privacy and community. We just haven’t found the balance.

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