When Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck abruptly announced his retirement a couple of months ago, many fans harshly criticized his decision. In fact, he was booed as he walked off his home field by the same fans who presumably cheered his success when he was healthy and on top of his game. His offense? Prioritizing his health over playing a game.
Luck’s was an extreme case, but it caused me to think of how quickly we tend to judge the decisions of others without considering or knowing all of the factors leading to those decisions. This seems especially common when someone is in the spotlight or deemed fortunate, like Luck obviously was. When someone like that shows weakness, we feel entitled to judge.
As the father of a college football player, I’m more sensitive about this than I used to be. Now, I know a lot more of what goes on behind the scenes, and I’m embarrassed by the sharp criticisms of players that I’ve offered in the past. We simply don’t know what challenges the competitors we cheer for are facing both on and off the field.
The same thing is true with the people we encounter in everyday life. Just the other day, as I was pulling up to the gym, I watched what appeared to be a perfectly healthy person walk seemingly effortlessly to his car, which was parked in the handicapped section. As someone who resisted getting a handicapped parking placard for many years, I am highly sensitive to abuse of that accommodation, and that sometimes causes me to rush to judgement.
I rushed to judgment that day. The guy I was angry with waited for me to get out of my vehicle, and as I passed by, he rolled down his window and asked me if I needed any help or if I wanted the spot in which he was parked, and I could hear the labored breathing. Just because he walked better than I do doesn’t mean that he needed that parking spot any less.
Though it was on a much smaller scale, I was as guilty of misplaced judgement on the wheezing parker as the Colts fans were with Andrew Luck. In both cases, we felt justified in our criticism because the object of our criticism was someone who seemed privileged. In reality though, we have no idea what challenges they face.
Challenges, physical and otherwise, are often not obvious or visible. Just as athletes have numerous sprains, tears and concussions that we never learn about, we don’t often don’t know about the struggles of our neighbors. They might appear to have it all together, but bad breaks, like relationship, health and money problems, often happen behind closed doors.
Andrew Luck had a brilliant career, and when he left it, he gave up around $58 million that he would have earned had he played two more years. The Colts owner estimated that he was giving up as much as $450 million in future earnings. He had already earned more than $97 million during his seven-year career. While those numbers are staggering, they don’t negate Luck’s prerogative to decide what’s best for his future.
It’s not our prerogative to judge, especially when that judgement is driven by jealousy. The next time you’re tempted to boo from the bleachers or criticize from the pews, try this exercise: consider what motivates your judgement and ask yourself if you have all of the facts. It’s not that hard, and you’ll be happier when you’re not judgmental or jealous.