‘Ted Lasso,’ the TV series, is an enigma. The main character is good-natured, big-hearted, and optimistic. He could have been dismissed as out of sync with today’s reality, even as fictional. Competing against gripping dystopian stories such as ‘Squid Game’ or ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ that supposedly mirror the dark trends of our times, the production could have easily been a flop. Instead, it has been a resounding success.
In one episode, Ted Lasso remembers a billboard from his childhood that read ‘be curious, not judgmental.’ This motto has profound social and economic consequences. Since curiosity is deemed to be an essential ingredient of diversity and inclusion, and since diversity and inclusion drives economic prosperity, being judgmental comes at a high economic cost.
In his book ‘Profit and Prejudice’ (2021), Paul Donovan, an economist and much more at UBS, discusses the socio-economic value of diversity, reminding his readers that it allows companies to consider risks and opportunities from multiple perspectives so that better decisions can be made. He also defines inclusion as hiring and integrating ‘the right people, with the right skills, in the right job, at the right time’ – without prejudice or ‘irrational discrimination.’ Through many examples, Mr. Donovan highlights the clear cause-effect relationship between diversity and inclusion and their positive contribution to business and the broader economy.
Unfortunately, curiosity has an Achilles’ heel: the open mind is an open door to intrusion. Many individuals and organizations have perfected the art to abuse curiosity, including through social media, to promote alternative truths. They use ‘gaslighting’ to gain power and influence, thriving on prejudice.
Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that makes its victims question their perception of reality and their values. It leads to anxiety, a loss of self-confidence in one’s belief, an inability to think for oneself, and even insanity.
Arguably, citizens are currently suffering from the effect of mass political gaslighting in many countries. This trend is contributing to a profound social and mental malaise. The imaginary, anti-utopian world where living conditions are miserable is becoming real, at least in the mind of a growing part of the population – hence the instinctive appeal of dystopian stories.
Can the promotion of alternative truths and gaslighting be tolerated in a liberal democracy? Karl Popper, a 20th-century philosopher, presents the paradox of tolerance in ‘The Open Society and Its Enemies’ (1945): ‘If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.’
The fact that ‘Ted Lasso’ has captured people’s hearts and minds is a rare, welcome sign of social health. Prompted by the Lasso experience, why not include ‘curiosity’ next to ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ to define an organizational culture.
And apply zero tolerance to intolerance.