Saturday, June 3, 2023

FDR, Ted Lasso, and The Value of Kindness


Scott D. Parker

Television this week boiled down to two things: the three-part, six-hour FDR documentary on The History Channel and the series finale of Apple TV’s Ted Lasso. In reflecting on both shows, I realized both programs demonstrated how one man can show those around him the value of kindness.


Based on the works of Doris Kearns Goodwin, “FDR” highlighted the life, career, and presidency of our 32nd president. Privileged from birth, FDR’s life was turned upside down when he contracted polio at age thirty-nine. His incapacitation meant he had to rely on others for nearly everything. It was in the long, slow process of learning to live with polio and paralysis that he deepened his compassion for his fellow Americans. He saw and experienced the toll the disease took on families and he always made sure his fellow polio sufferers were treated with dignity and respect.

It was his compassion that led him to try things on the state government level when he was governor or New York during the early days of the Great Depression and as, as president, he continued the practice. Try something. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, try something else. 

The focus, however, for nearly all that he tried, was the common citizen. He wanted to help people. He felt sympathy for them in their plights—whether an out of work woman in the Depression or a soldier he sent off to war—and he also felt empathy. He could understand because he, too, needed help. It was a trait he literally strived to live up to until his final breath.

Ted Lasso

If you know the show, you know that American football coach Ted Lasso accepts a job coaching an English soccer team. What started out as a fish-out-of-water comedy morphed in a truly unique and special show that had less to do about soccer, er, football, and more to do about, well, helping people.

Ted Lasso the character possesses a wonderfully optimistic view of life. Yes, he hides some of his own personal traumas and mental health issues, but he also seeks help. He finds it not only with a professional therapist but also his group of co-workers, all of whom are guys not used to sharing their feelings. Gradually over the three season, they develop a deep bond of friendship and respect. The players themselves also start to understand there are more important things that just soccer. Even the team owner learns the Ted Lasso lesson.

In a recent podcast interview, Jason Sudeikis, the co-creator and star, said that during the development of the show, one of the themes he wanted the show to have was less snark. There was enough of that in the world and he outwardly wanted to show a different side of humanity. He wanted, in a word, to be kind to viewers. He wanted the various characters to bring out not just sympathy in the viewers but empathy. I happen to think he and the entire crew of the show pulled it off splendidly. 

The Money Quote

It might seem an odd comparison—a real-life president and a fictional TV show—but the themes are common. FDR’s sense of optimism helped guide and comfort the country in a dark time. Ted Lasso’s optimism did so on a weekly basis on TV. I actually kind of laughed when these thoughts merge in my mind late on Wednesday night as I was in the afterglow of Ted Lasso’s series finale.

Ted Lasso is chock full of wonderful quotes. If someone hasn’t already compiled them, it’s something that needs to happen. One in particular really struck me this week. One of Ted Lasso’s group of guys—called the Diamond Dogs—asks if they think people can change. Another character dropped this truth:

“Human beings are never going to be perfect, Roy. But the best we can do is keep asking for help and accepting it when you can. And if you keep on doing that, you’ll always be moving towards better.”

A crucial component to being better is being kind. Not only kind to others, but kind to yourself. It is a lesson that needs to be on an endless repeat in our daily lives. 

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