Like some of you, I find laughs and wisdom in watching episodes of Ted Lasso. I also identify with Ted’s character. He’s a clueless soccer coach and I used to be a clueless coach for the Forest Park Youth Soccer Association. Ted doesn’t know much about soccer strategy, but he is wise when it comes to how to treat people.

In one episode, he quoted poet Walt Whitman: “Be curious, not judgmental.” Ted lives up to this motto. He is curious about everyone he meets. He engages people regardless of their social standing. He befriends the lowly equipment man, Nate, and entrusts him with increasing responsibility. Ted doesn’t judge people, not even the fans who mock him to his face.

I was really struck by the Whitman quote because it reminded me of my late Forest Park friend, Mark Rogovin. Mark was curious about everyone and everything. He engaged everyone he met in conversation, whether they were busboys or CEOs. No matter how much he disagreed with someone, he didn’t judge them.

I miss Mark and his curious, nonjudgmental ways because our society has become increasingly judgmental. Our new national pastime is criticizing each other. The pandemic has made it worse. We get judged for wearing a mask, or not wearing a mask. We get judged for getting vaccinated, and not getting vaccinated. We are judged for attending large gatherings, or not attending large gatherings.

Last Thanksgiving, I agonized about attending the family feast. I didn’t want to catch COVID or participate in a super-spreader. At the last second, I decided to go. No one got sick at the party but plenty of people judged me for attending it.

This past year, I’ve been judged for what I say and what I write. I’ve been censored, corrected and lectured. It’s ironic that it’s the free speech and social justice advocates who tell me what I can, or cannot, say. I learned that people are judgmental because they are insecure, fearful, or lack self-esteem. Maybe they were raised in a critical environment?

Besides telling me what I can’t say, they warn me what I cannot write. They tell me how a topic is going to offend certain individuals or groups. I’ve written columns that have offended readers, and I regret writing them. But now I have to be so careful what I joke about. Humor that was acceptable 10 years ago is now out of bounds.

I have had my own judgmental moments. A few years ago, I was collecting money for Kiwanis on “Peanut Day.” I was shaking my white can at Circle and Madison. For some reason, I was pre-judging people I was certain wouldn’t donate. Each time I came up with a prejudice, some generous soul disproved it.

As for being curious, my worst Thanksgiving was when I was determined to tell my fascinating stories. I became bored by my stories and the listeners didn’t find them fascinating. I felt so empty on the way home because I hadn’t learned a single thing about the other guests.

So my advice this holiday season is to be curious, not judgmental. Questions make the conversation flow. Don’t judge the other guests, even if you don’t agree with their views. This approach reminds me of a quote from another fictional character, Elwood P. Dowd (of Harvey fame). “In this world, you must be oh so smart, or oh so pleasant. Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant.”

By the way, I researched Ted Lasso’s quote. A website said that Walt Whitman never said it. OK, but I bet he wished he had.

John Rice

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.