An ex-colleague and friend recently asked me to give him an online reference regarding the project we`d worked on together. He`d asked a couple of us, and we each gave him one, accurate and honest.He`d made mistakes, like we all do, but one particular person, really had an axe to grind, both with him, and from what I`ve heard, seemingly with all of the rest of who he worked with as well.I got a message off that person questioning the reference. So instead of getting defensive, or attacking, I sent him a lengthy email back explaining why.I explained, the ex-colleague had been going through a traumatic time when we all worked together. His ex-wife, had already taken their child from him, and was trying to move to another country and take their child with her. He was fighting to retain a relationship with his daughter. They were embroiled in a drawn out court battle, and she was playing dirty and trying to create doubts over him as a father. He was also working alone and was under extreme stress. When he left our project, he was replaced by no less than 3 people. I explained we are all on our journey through life, and if he needed a reference, I was happy to give him one, and stood by it.No-one took the time to get to know him, or understand what he was going through at the time. If they had, they might have realised he was doing a pretty good job under the circumstances. He was judged based on how useful he was to others, from their own selfish point of view. I once worked at a company where, quite often, a particular person had a really bad attitude towards the rest of us, and was often abrupt and aggressive. It all came into context one day when we found out that weekend he had walked out of his unit, crossed the road, climbed the scaffolding at the building site across the road and hung himself. Apparently, he had been a severe manic-depressive (or bi-polar), and been fighting an internal battle for years. No-one knew, except for his partner, and one particular manager, who had made a number of 3am mercy dashes in the past.It taught me, you just never know what is really going on under the surface of other people, what battles they are fighting, what stress they are under. We are all just flesh and blood, and any of us can break incredibly easily. We should all think twice and apply some compassion and empathy, before judging others.