By Daniel Staffenberg, CEO, Jewish Community Federation of Richmond
I am a firm believer that learning happens throughout our days and often shows up in unexpected ways.
My teacher in the past few months, an American, mustached, soccer coach for an English Premiere League team, was surely unexpected.
Ted Lasso was the right guy at the right time with just the right message via an Apple TV series. A decent, caring man, he was eternally optimistic and kind, and willing to take on a challenge with a struggling team and think about things differently.
As a coach, he focused on his role as a teacher, most interested in his students believing in themselves, not a drill sergeant demanding perfection.
Over the past few weeks, with our Legislative advocacy at full speed, the Israeli Government changing dramatically and our fundraising and community building efforts full steam ahead, we need the power of belief, of hope, thoughtfulness, decency, and forgiveness.
We need the Mishnah and learning of Coach Lasso.
Lesson 1 – “Believe in Believe”
As his first season as coach of AFC Richmond comes to an end, the team is facing the prospect of being relegated to a lower tier of competition without a much-needed win.
Coach Lasso brings together his team, clearly frustrated by the hopeless nature of their many fans and players. Ted explains that it’s not hope that kills, but the lack of hope that kills.
In his unique way, the coach explains that he “believes in believe.” Having hope, and being all in, was the only way forward. Lasso recalls the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey victory over Russia, remembering the famous call …“do you believe in miracles.”
Ted, knowing that his team is facing a steep challenge, asks his players one by one whether they too believe in miracles. It wasn’t about winning or losing, it was about a mindset.
Coach Lasso’s teaching, not unlike Judaism, is about having faith in things we cannot see. What sets this teaching apart and makes it so important is having full faith – to understand that our mindset matters.
We have all done this. We make backup plans, and say to ourselves, “I tried my best, that’s all that matters.” We try and find the easy and comfortable path, in anticipation of things going poorly – eliminating energy from setting our limits and expectations high and expecting things to go right.
What would it look like if we made the commitment to believe in believe? Not to worry about what happens, if and when things go bad, but to be fully entrenched in the prospect of things going right.
Lesson 2 – Be curious, not judgmental.
This piece of Lasso Mishnah is one that has helped me. Coach Lasso is playing the white knight, in support of his boss Rebecca as she is confronted and talked down to by her ex husband.
After some conversations, the ex challenges Coach Lasso to a darts game, expecting him to be unfamiliar with the game.
As the game unfolds, Ted is losing, but continues throwing darts while sharing the following:
“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 painted on a wall and it said, ‘Be curious, not judgmental.’ I like that.”
The coach continued. “So, I get back in my car and I’m driving to work and all of a sudden it hits me – all them fellas who used to belittle me, not a single one of them was curious. You know, they thought they had everything all figured out, so they judged everything, and they judged everyone. And I realized they were underestimating me – who I was had nothing to do with it. Because if they were curious, they would’ve asked questions. Questions like, ‘Have you played a lot of darts, Ted?’”
A dart then leaves his hand for a perfect shot. He continues…
“To which I would have answered, ‘Yes sir. Every Sunday afternoon at a sports bar with my father from age ten until I was 16 – when he passed away.’ (At which point Ted throws a double bullseye to win the game.) (Season 1, Episode 8)
I think there is much to learn here. What is striking is that Ted’s opponent asks a question at the beginning of the scene “do you like darts” and never asks another question. He wasn’t curious, it wasn’t an open-ended question seeking to learn more.
The individual thought he knew all he needed to know about Ted. How many times do we look at someone and assume we know all there is to know about them.
How often do our assumptions get in the way of reality?
The idea that we would judge a person, not by what is inside them, but their appearance is antithetical to Judaism. Pirkei Avot teaches “Don’t look at the container, but at that which is in it” (4:20).
Coach Lasso implores us to seek a deeper meaning and understanding; to ask open-ended questions to learn more about people, to be curious, and to show empathy, care and interest, not judgment.
I would suggest we live in a time with an ever-increasing amount of depression and anxiety that we too need to be curious of our actions and less judgmental.
What does it do for our self-esteem or confidence when we mess something up or make a poor decision only to blame and hurt ourselves?
Be curious about why you did something; take a moment to think. Avoid judgment and grow from the experience.
So, as we continue our journey… Let’s remember the Mishnah of Lasso. Believe in Believe and Be curious, not judgmental.
Let’s take a moment and ask one more question, to try and learn something new and believe in the good in our world and community.