Opinion: 'Be curious, not judgmental' a worthy life hack

This image released by Apple TV+ shows Jason Sudeikis in a scene from "Ted Lasso." The program received 20 Emmy nominations. (Colin Hutton/Apple TV+ via AP)

I read an article the other day about a quote that is gaining popularity in pop culture. The quote is: "Be curious, not judgmental."

It's on T-shirts and coffee mugs, which is interesting because it's a prosaic phrase without an obvious pun or a punchline. Still, the four words are thick with meaning.

The quote has gained notoriety as a scrap of dialogue from the hit show "Ted Lasso," an Apple TV+ comedy/drama series about an affable American football coach who is drafted to coach a professional soccer team in the U.K.

As a character, Lasso (played by actor Jason Sudeikis) has gained traction because he is a kind and inspirational person, the exact opposite of the characters in most TV shows who draw energy from conflict.

In one episode, Lasso muses: "Guys have underestimated me my entire life, and for years I never understood why - it used to really bother me. Then one day I was driving my little boy to school, and I saw a quote by Walt Whitman. It was painted on the wall there, and it said, 'Be curious, not judgmental.'"

Lasso said he later realized that the people who underestimated him had been mentally lazy, which was their problem, not his.

Some have pointed out that the quote is misattributed to Whitman, which hardly matters. What matters is the mental shift that happens once you plant the phrase in your brain.

Take a minute and meditate on the phrase: "Be curious, not judgmental."

If we all did that, think about how it would change family dynamics, work conflicts, politics, media. As a writer and parent, I might even sand the phrase down to this: "Curiosity over conflict."

Rendering quick and strong judgment on people we disagree with, or simply don't understand, has become a reflex in the modern world. But being judgmental is just a shortcut that eliminates the heavy lifting of actually investigating and thinking about things.

Instead of being curious about people we disagree with, we'd rather write them off as "idiots." Or just pity them - as we do when we utter the all-purpose Southernism, "Bless their hearts."

But what if our first impulse was to be curious? You might ask yourself: Is this behavior I'm seeing a character flaw, or is it a cry for help for something totally unrelated? Or is it a mere disagreement based on a different worldview or life path? If you render a quick judgment without being curious, you may never know.

There is another part of me, though, that hates trying to parse every issue. I have grown to mistrust the word "nuance," which is often used by smart people to avoid thinking of anything as right or wrong. Still, I think there is room for pausing and thinking, rather than rendering snap judgements. When we stop being curious, we stop learning - and we surrender some of our humanity in the process.

On another level, I think the phrase "be curious, not judgmental" is just another way of framing the Golden Rule from the Bible: "In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you."

I think all of us would rather be asked about our actions and opinions rather than be judged from afar. And if we expect that courtesy from others, we should first practice it ourselves.

Email Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com.

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