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You never really know anyone

Man alone on the beach, Jovan Belcher
The world is a beautiful place, but what do the people battling demons see? (Inset: Jovan Belcher)

Over the past week I've been both fascinated and bothered by the murder suicide of NFL player Jovan Belcher. Until his death, Belcher was a relatively unknown linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs who had a promising career, a young daughter, and a seemingly stellar attitude to both his job and life outside of it.

His actions contradict the image he portrayed to the largest possible scale.

The minute details are murky, but the simple version of the story is that Belcher fatally shot his girlfriend at her house before driving to his team's facility and shooting himself in the parking lot in front of a pleading Chiefs' GM and head coach.

Related: Chiefs gather after Belcher tragedy

Belcher's friends, family and teammates say he was in good spirits in the lead-up to the tragedy, albeit a couple's tiff from time to time with his partner. They thought they knew him. Nothing indicated the 25-year-old was fighting demons and capable of such violence.

The tragedy has made me think a great deal about how well we know the people in our lives.

The way the world is today, an exchange of "how's it going?" and "yeah, good, mate" is almost robotic. Under no circumstances does a bloke respond to a common greeting by unloading a stack of baggage or general angst. It's not the done thing. No one likes a complainer, nor do they like someone rattling on about themselves.

I've frequently wondered too, if others' lives are really as great as they make them out to be. We all have our challenges no matter how great our bank balance or success with the opposite sex. People naturally hide the bad and flaunt the good.

With social media this is especially the case. How often do you see acquaintances posting photos of their new expensive toy, checking in to flashy venues, and behaving in a way which generally tries to get one-up on anyone that'll look at their news feed?

Everyone's trying to appear the happiest, living a life with all the trimmings, and trying to increase their status. The people not competing are as disposable as a click on the delete button — that's if you remember they're even there in the first place.

With women it's even worse. Enter the world of internet dating and I can't help but smirk and shake my head. Every profile I've looked at is an embellishment of the truth and has to be taken with a grain of salt. If these ladies were as happy, successful and content as they say, well, they'd not need to self-promote on the internet for a date.

Related: Dealing with internet dating

Don't get me wrong, I understand that narcissism is a necessary evil when it comes to scoring a date off a website. What concerns me is that the so-called best policy of honesty has been replaced with lying, or at best, a dramatic version of the truth.

Amongst all the petty game playing in our social circles are real people, but do you ever truly get to meet the genuine character under the exterior?

Of course, I'm not indicating everyone is a Jovan Belcher waiting to happen. Without trying to sound paranoid, I'm simply saying that we never get to know people as much as we'd like to.

This isn't just limited to the group of boys you enjoy sinking beers with. It's especially so when in a romantic relationship with someone.

People will always have their secrets and are entitled to them. For the most part, these secrets will be entirely harmless, although would you want to know your partner's deepest thoughts if given the opportunity? Do you share everything about yourself to your partner?

I don't think so.

Someone's past, however, is more often than not the driver for present behaviour. If you're in a relationship then surely you're both entitled to know what they've done with their lives and what's made them into the person they are today.

Someone bottling up and telling me their past doesn't matter would make me very uneasy. It's important, and the line of communication is about understanding someone, not about judging them.

I think it's essential in identifying and eradicating potential meltdowns down the track. If we're honest with the people closest to us then perhaps we have the chance to build relationships based on truth rather than false pretences.

With proper communication and the right support, incidents where someone like Belcher has gone off the rails can hopefully be prevented.

The problem is we struggle to be to be open and honest when we suspect others aren't extending us the same courtesy. Trust is built over time and that can take months, perhaps years.

Words too, are easily misconstrued and taken at face value, and they shouldn't be. I feel that it's best to not worry so much about what people say, only what they do, because people — especially the opposite sex — will blurt out all types of garbage and expect you to believe it.

Paying attention to someone's behaviour is by no means fool-proof, but it's certainly more effective than accepting what people say.

This approach clearly didn't work for the people that knew Jovan Belcher, but I like to think his case is a one-off. I also get the distinct feeling that a few people most likely knew he was disturbed and simply didn't put two and two together. Either that or they felt his high income and material possessions were a sign of internal happiness.

We'll probably never know what really happened in his case, just as you'll never know everything about that person or people you deeply care about. What you do have is the undisputed evidence of how they treat you and how they treat others. In the end, how someone acts on a day-to-day basis is all you really have to go by.

User comments
This is powerful and relevant considering what's happened at Sandy Hook school in the US. People say the killer was weird, but I doubt anyone knew the extent of his troubles. Pushing those major cases aside I do think we need to be more involved and supportive of the people in our lives. Too easily our so-called friends are deleted and improved upon. We live in a shallow society.
I read your article with interest and agree we cannot know anyone by their words and must rely on actions. I recently began Internet dating as a means to meet someone. Unfortunately, these days it is difficult to meet members of the opposite sex just casually - you don't know who is available and who is not and if you have a busy life opportunities do not always present themselves. Therefore, I do not agree with the doubts cast on women who advertise on the Internet dating sites. Like the men who also do this, I believe it is worth the effort in the long run and I certainly do not regard myself as desperate.
T-Rex - if you have never known anyone who has committed suicide or been seriously mentally ill, what makes you think your opinion (or "feeling" rather) is valid at all? I have known both (even experienced one of those things myself), and the biggest problem is not drug use (which is a symptom, NOT a cause). The biggest problem is alienation... feeling like you don't fit in with your social circle, or that you don't even have a social circle. My brother's best friend committed suicide as a teenager and he was severely picked on at school and his parents didn't give a s**t about him. He only really had two friends. Every time I saw people hate on him, the pain he was experiencing was obvious. The thing that causes this alienation is people's judgemental attitudes and desire to scapegoat other 'causes' like drug use. Eliminate these and you'll go a long way to understanding and lowering the incidence of suicide.
This is quite true but depressing. I was with my ex for 2 and a half years and I thought I knew him really well. He not only was a closet gambler but also spent time in jail he decided not to tell me about. People's baggage will come out, but sometimes it's just too late. I felt stupid for ages.
I don't know anyone personally that's committed suicide or had any serious mental illness, but my feeling is that a huge amount of the time drugs are involved. Avoid drugs and keep a clear head. Some people are just a mystery and can't cope with life.

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