Those of us who are not celebrity gossip addicts missed it. But a few weeks before the tragic and premature death of Chadwick Boseman, pictures showed him to be alarmingly thin and haggard. In comments sections and meme accounts, people joked at the effects of a few months of quarantine. Others called him Crack Panther, implying that drugs were to blame for his radical change in appearance.
Of course, we now know why he looked that way. He was dying of stage four colon cancer. He had only a few more days to live.
Even if you did not see these pictures or jump to those conclusions, the lesson is a sobering one: You have no idea what people are going through. The famous singer who puts on weight. The coworker who is messing up over and over. The new person you’re dating who seems to be suddenly preoccupied. The rude person in traffic. Even the Karen who is melting down on video at the grocery store.
We have no idea about their private struggles. We have no idea about their pain. Marcus Aurelius tried to remind himself that people and events are not asking to be judged by you. You have the option of having no opinion, he said. So, somebody gained weight? So someone seems different lately? Unless you’re providing sympathy or help, why don’t you mind your own business?
Nobody asked for your criticism. Nobody needs you to make fun of them. They’re struggling. They’ve got more than enough on their plate and they don’t need you adding to it. Remember that. Because every time you forget you risk ending up like the people who got their kicks mocking a guy dying of cancer. You end up missing what was actually quiet and profound heroism.