The best advice I've heard in the past few years came from what is arguably one of the best moments of television ever to appear on our collective screens.
If you're a Ted Lasso fan, you'll certainly remember the powerful scene I'm talking about if you read just a bit further.
But in case you're not, let me provide you with the context you'll need to fully appreciate it.
Ted Lasso, the protagonist of the beloved series by the same name, is the one who asks how many points are needed to win at the very beginning of the clip below. Ted is a college football coach who is unexpectedly recruited to coach AFC Richmond, an English Premier League team. AFC Richmond fans are outraged when Ted is hired, and perhaps justifiably so: Ted doesn't have any experience coaching that kind of football, which is better known to North Americans as "soccer". They're absolutely certain he's going to fail.
*SPOILER ALERT: If you haven't seen the first season of Ted Lasso and intend to do so, skip the next paragraph and go on to the one after. It won't ruin the point of the post, I promise.
But failure was the goal. Ted was hired because AFC Richmond's new owner, Rebecca (the blonde woman sitting at the bar behind Ted, in the red sweater and black jacket) wanted him to fail. Disastrously, if possible. That's because she doesn't care about the team... but her philanderous ex-husband Rupert (the man sarcastically wishing Ted "good luck" after the number of points he needs to win is revealed) most certainly does, and Rebecca plans to get revenge on her ex-husband by ruining the only thing Rupert has ever loved.
Fast forward to the eighth episode of the show's first season...
Rebecca and Ted are at a pub with the other team owners, when Rupert appears with his girlfriend. Because Rupert is a prince of a guy, he threatens to attend every AFC Richmond game, sit in the owner's box (as is his right, since he still owns part of the team), and publicly criticize her management of the club whenever the press asks him for a comment.
After a brief exchange, Ted and Rupert ultimately make a bet on a game of darts: if Rupert wins, Ted will let him pick the starting line-up for the last two games of the season, but if Ted wins, Rupert has to stay away from the owner's box for as long as Rebecca is in charge of the team. The competition commences, and Rupert takes a significant lead.
And that takes us to this...
Be curious, not judgmental.
The advice is simple, yet profound.
Because when you think about it, it can be applied to pretty much everything you observe.
"That's not how most people would do that."
"He's a former VP, but he's decided to apply for the Director role we posted."
"That's a unique tattoo."
"She left that job rather suddenly."
"He seemed so distracted in today's meeting."
"She doesn't have a degree."
"I've never seen an outfit like that before."
"There's a two-year gap on his resume."
We're all human, and withholding judgement can be difficult sometimes; unfortunately, it comes all too naturally to most of us.
But can you begin to imagine what you might learn if instead of judging someone's actions or circumstances you instead thought to ask "why" these things might be as they are?
Be curious, not judgmental.
The best advice is rarely complicated.
After being reminded of this sage advice via a random Twitter post last week, I looked online to learn if Walt Whitman was actually the first to say this quote; as it happens, there's no evidence to suggest he ever said or wrote it at all. But the image above appeared as part of my search results, and I decided to print a copy and tape it to my office wall where I can see it whenever I look up from my computer monitors. It's a good reminder, don't you think?
As an aside, I'd like to one day get to a point where people attribute brilliant quotes to me despite my not having actually said them, just because they're smart and sound like something I'd say. Alas, it hasn't happened yet.