Be curious, not judgmental.
It’s one of the many pieces of wisdom that Ted Lasso shares over the course of two seasons. There’s the reminder that we should try to have the short memory of a goldfish, so we can forget the bad and move forward; the advice that if you have a little love in your heart, you can get through anything; and that like in a rom com, you can go through struggles and still come out happy. All good lessons, that with his southern twang, make them sound a little sweeter.
Yet, it’s “be curious, not judgmental,” delivered by Ted during a monologue as he plays darts in the eighth episode of season one, that I come back to time and again, struck by the heart with which it was said, and its truth.
Of the various topics Ted Lasso tackles—toxic masculinity, mental health, whether tea is pigeon sweat or a great drink (I side with the latter)—one that seems to prevail is that people are not always what we think they are.
It’s probably the lesson I needed most when I sat down to start watching the show last September. Bored with my usual television shows and in need of a new distraction, I perused the hundreds of options before me and landed on a photo of an exuberant Jason Sudeikis on a soccer pitch.
I wasn’t—and am not—much into sports, especially soccer/football, and believing that it would be the central focus of the show, I had avoided it as such. However, after seeing my high school SNL crush, Jason, take home an Emmy and the rest of the cast do so along with him, I thought maybe it was time to give it a try. Pack follower, I know.
Before the end of the first episode, the show and its characters had checked my expectations. At the beginning, it is easy to write Ted off as stupid, Rebecca as vengeful and mean, Keeley as the typical party girl/socialite, Nate as the unconfident sidekick, and Roy and Jamie as, well, assholes—each cocky in their own ways. Or at least those were my assumptions, and I am good at making assumptions. Perhaps I am curious but also judgmental.
It seems important to note here the mental state I was in when I first watched. At the time, I was living through one of the most stressful periods of my life. The years before had seen my optimism jaded and replaced by pessimism. As much as I wanted to see the best in people, I frequently fell back on the worse, ready to judge and compare. Current events both international and personal had done nothing to improve it, only increasing my propensity for it. I was great at judging others, while presenting an alternate reality version of myself to others so they wouldn’t do the same to me. In short, I had the faith in humanity of a Rebecca hidden behind the peppy guise of a Keeley, and that perspective colored how I viewed everything, including television.
But as the pilot, and the rest of the season progressed, I realized that like real people, they were not one thing, but complex and complicated. Ted is optimistic, and always ready to lift others, but struggling with his own demons. Rebecca has been deeply hurt, but wants to care and do the right thing. Keeley is smart, business savvy, a great friend, and does not let the men around her define her. Underneath the layers of anger, bluster, and swear words, Roy is a softie. Jamie’s childhood experiences had led him to shield himself with arrogance. And Nate, well, if you know you know.
In the midst of the crazy time we are now in, when people seem to treat others like they’ve forgotten their humanity, Ted Lasso felt—and continues to feel—like a reassurance that maybe the world and the people in it aren’t as bad as they seem—and when shown kindness and given chances, people can surprise us. Each and every character is capable of change, of evolving and growing, for better or for worse. And so are their real human counterparts, even if, at times, it feels easier to not believe it and reduce a person to one trait.
So, after watching both seasons multiple times, have I taken the “be curious, not judgmental” advice to heart? Has Ted Lasso made me judge people less? The answer is as complex as the characters I once judged. I’m trying, but I have a long way to go.
When my mind makes snap judgments, or I get in a mood where I can only see the world through misty darkness, a voice in my head—sometimes in a southern drawl—reminds me not to leap to conclusions so quickly. The show has made me more curious and willing to ask why a person did or said a certain thing rather than assume. I’ve also had to ask myself why I felt the need to scrutinize someone else’s actions and what I gain from it (the answer is little). On the whole, I’d say it has made me more aware, and, just as needed, a little more hopeful, coming along just when I needed it.
If, as Ted says, there are things that come into our lives “to help us get from one place to a better one,” then for me, Ted Lasso has been one of these things.