Chadwick Boseman’s death from colon cancer has hit me in a way few celebrity deaths have. I’m a self-confessed Marvel nerd and read Black Panther comics in my own childhood, but I don’t think that’s it. I’ve also been inspired and impressed by his non-Marvel choices, playing Black icons of history such as Jackie Robinson, James Brown, and Thurgood Marshall. But I don’t think that’s it either. Having been a recipient of others’ generosity and support, he was someone who paid this forward to others, imparting wisdom and grace as he did so. But that’s also not it.
I spent some time this weekend reading about how much time he spent with children going through cancer battles of their own over the last few years. This interview from 2018 in which he talks about how much two of those children looked forward to seeing Black Panther takes on a different meaning now that we know he himself had been diagnosed with colon cancer during the making of the movie. It’s amazing to me that he made the hard-hitting movies he did – and modeled such class and leadership – while going through such intense private battles of his own. Of course it would have been shocking if he had died in an accident (just as it was with Kobe Bryant earlier this year), but facing the trials he did and keeping them private while manifesting such power and leadership… I think that’s it. That’s what hit me.
When he posted a video a few months ago announcing a new charity partnership, he was almost unrecognizably thin. Along with some concern for his health, there were also a lot of articles assuming his weight loss was for a role – questioning his choices, asking what he was doing to himself and how this might affect his health. In the end, his cancer was private. Even his close friend, Black Panther writer/director Ryan Coogler didn’t know the trials he was facing. His four-year battle was only announced at the time of his death – not by TMZ or the other usual news outlets, but by his family.
One thing this brings home is that we never really know what someone else is going through. And this is just as true with people we connect with on a regular basis as it is with celebrities. So how can this help us connect authentically with the people around us, at work and in other parts of our life?
This Week’s Tip:
Understand that you don’t understand what others are going through. Rather than rush to judgement, seek to understand those around you:
- Ask open-ended questions and allow space for them to share whatever they’d like to.
- Honor their choices about what they share and what they choose not to. Respect their privacy.
- Be a safe person for any of your colleagues to confide in and share their experiences with.
- Show empathy, seek to understand, and keep it confidential.
Try this out this week, and let us know how it goes in our Facebook group! We’d love to hear from you. As always, you can subscribe to our feed here, or sign up for our weekly newsletter to get these articles directly in your inbox.