“…one day I was driving my little boy to school and I saw this quote from Walt Whitman painted on the wall there that said “Be Curious. Not Judgmental. I like that.”-Ted Lasso, Season 1, Episode 8 “Diamond Dogs”
Apparently the famous american poet never actually coined that phrase.
But regardless of the source, that bit of wisdom has helped me quite a bit recently.
We live in a world where kindness and understanding are in short supply. The COVID-19 pandemic seems to have made this only worse.
Many of us have separated ourselves into opposing ideological camps, living inside our own social media fueled echo chambers.
Increasingly people emphasize their differences and create walls between those that think, look or behave differently.
I have found that when I take time to get to know others, to “be curious”, those barriers fall.
In health care, we often see patients and families who are stressed and frustrated. When I ask about their frustrations and then take time to really listen, it helps me understand and have sympathy for what they are dealing with.
Recently, I have been in school board meetings with some frustrated, even angry parents. When our district staff takes time to kindly connect with them in-person, one-on-one, it helps promote understanding.
When I am curious, I want to know why a parent is angry about a school policy.
I want to know why a patient doesn’t trust hospitals.
I want to know why my neighbor put that political sign on their lawn.
I want to know why that person has that bumper sticker, wears that hat or that t-shirt.
I want to know why that person is afraid of authority or of people who seem different.
Asking honest questions and listening to answers creates mutual understanding.
And if we don’t have time or if direct communication isn’t possible, isn’t it a better use of our emotional energy to just assume the best?
I was at a leadership training class recently, and the man teaching it noted that when he is passed on the freeway by a seemingly angry, impatient driver, he chooses not to respond with anger. He has trained himself instead to smile and say something like, “his wife must be in labor and they are on the way to the hospital.”
Ted Lasso has taught me that if I am curious I build understanding. And while I am waiting for the opportunity to satisfy my curiosity, I shouldn’t waste time on negative thoughts, but should instead assume other’s behavior can be explained by good intentions.
John Taylor, MD
Family Practice Physician