An Ode to Curiosity

This Place of Curiosity — the Very Opposite of Judgement — is Often Where I Experience God.

Sam Bush / 5.6.21

One of the best scenes in the opening season of the surprise-hit show Ted Lasso is during a darts match in a sports bar. As the game is heating up and a crowd is clustering around him and his opponent, Lasso tells a story in parabolic fashion. While driving his son to school one day, he sees a quote painted on a wall: “Be curious, not judgmental.” The quote reminds him of the people who used to belittle him when he was young. “Not a single one of them was curious,” he recalls. “They thought they had it figured out. They judged.” Little did they know that Lasso did have something to offer (and little does his opponent know that Lasso is a master at darts). The moral here is that curiosity is the opposite of judgment. Where judgment decides, curiosity searches; where judgment closes a door, curiosity leaves it open.

The scene has stuck with me for months. What does it look like to live curiously? If you’re Ted Lasso, it starts with generally giving people the benefit of the doubt. It looks like living as if you’re still new here in the world, as if there is still more to learn about yourself and about other people, as if life can still be explored. To be curious is to posture oneself as a child — to ask, to seek, to wonder (i.e., to not judge). Lasso isn’t so much endorsing relativism here as he is inviting humility and compassion. Curiosity is almost the definition of frivolity, but its roots run into something of far greater substance.

Conventional wisdom tells us that curiosity is not a virtue. After all, it killed the cat. There is an increasing pressure to be a master in the world (see: the tremendous success of the ever burgeoning Master Class series). To be a master is to have conquered a given subject to the point where nothing can surprise you because you have seen it all and heard it all before. Mastery suggests total control of a given thing. While that sounds appealing to a degree, doesn’t it also sound terribly boring (if not utterly exhausting)?

Ted Lasso’s sense of curiosity pokes a pin dart into the hot air balloon of arrogant judgmentalism. The reason why this delightful character has stolen so many of our hearts is precisely what makes him so confounding to the people around him. His non-judgmental curiosity is the complete opposite of the way the world works.

Lasso’s dart opponent is the archetype of the Master who knows more than everyone else in the room. He can be found at a seminary near you. In academia, the way you typically show you’re smart in the world is by the incisive take-down of someone else. (This often happens when someone tells a classmate, “Sorry, but I just want to push back on what you just said,” which is code for throwing off the gloves.) But, really, everywhere you look — academia, movie review critics, food critics, the talking heads on ESPN or the news, social media — everyone is playing the same game. In the eyes of the world, life is a blood-sport and criticism just happens to be today’s weapon of choice.

This is why Lasso’s childlike curiosity comes off as naive buffoonery. People mistake his non-judgmental curiosity for stupidity (1 Cor 1:23). Non-judgmental curiosity is not the life-saving alternative to the world’s game but, instead, a weakness to be exploited. While even the Master will eventually suffer the humiliation of defeat over a game of darts, what distinguishes Lasso from the rest is not an endless streak of victory. What sets him apart is the things that will sustain him through defeat. In that sense, faith and hope are synonymous with curiosity.

There is something to be said for an appetite for the unknown. To admit the limitations of one’s perspective is usually the only way to gain more of it. Of course, this falls right in line with the element of surprise that we’re so into right now. To be in a place where you didn’t expect to be and then to realize that you are somehow OK is a reminder that God is bigger than you previously thought. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it also just might save your life.

Unsurprisingly, children are the champions of curiosity. These days, my three-year-old is constantly asking me Life 101 questions — Can you eat apple seeds? Where does water come from? — to the point where I am constantly readjusting what I think I know and what I don’t actually know. There is a profound freedom in admitting that you don’t know everything, that you haven’t seen it all and heard it all before, that there is something new for you to experience.

I’d be lying if I said that the gospel of God’s grace isn’t often found somewhere I least expected, many times from someone I had completely written off, be that Justin Bieber, Paula White, or Ted Lasso. Scripture tells me that the gospel is often found in the unexpected — the one from Nazareth, Joseph’s son. To be open to what God is doing in my own life and in the lives around me takes a certain amount of curiosity. It requires an openness that I rarely choose on my own. In fact, I will only allow that kind of openness when I feel like I have nothing left to lose. This place of curiosity — the very opposite of judgement — is often where I experience God. “For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”

[Warning: Video contains explicit language]