Is Ted Lasso Normalizing Male Emotional Vulnerability?
Spoiler Alert: If you are not caught up on Ted Lasso, you many want to wait before reading this article.
Last Saturday my wife and I were having a nice lunch at our favorite Mexican place, and a large rugged looking man cockily strutted in wearing a t-shirt that caught my attention. The front of it had printed in large letters: "F Your Feelings." As he sat down at his table, he looked around the room in an almost snarling manner, as if daring anyone to say something to him. My initial thought to myself was, "What an insensitive idiot!" I was incensed with his apparent lack of empathy for anyone within reading distance of his shirt. Then after a few minutes, my anger turned to sorrow for the guy. I came to the conclusion that he must be hurting. Somewhere along his journey, something bad must have happened to him. Maybe he was emotionally abused or traumatized. Or perhaps he is just a jerk, because he was raised that way. Who knows?
My mind often works in song lyrics. It's how I process things sometimes. On this particular occasion, when this guy walked into the room, I thought of the lyrics from the old Joe Jackson song from 1982, Real Men, where he tries to figure out what makes a "real man":
Is he rough or is he rugged
Is he cultural and clean
Now it's all change – it's got to change more
'Cause we think it's getting better
But nobody's really sure
(The video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ydOAVpVZ00)
Most of us who are old enough to read this were taught that "real men" shouldn't show (or even feel) their emotions. If you are like me, you had coaches and other male role models in your life that told you and your fellow young male classmates and teammates things like "Real men don't cry," "Be a man, and suck it up," and "Rub some dirt on it." In retrospect, it seems like most of my coaches were more of the Bobby Knight or Woody Hayes ilk than that Ted Lasso variety.
I am under the strong impression that because the majority of the males in our generation have been taught to suppress their emotions, it has contributed significantly to many of the dumpster fires in our society that we are faced with now. Is it any wonder that the world is in the shape it is now when a large segment of the population doesn't know how to process emotions and act with some semblance of empathy and compassion for themselves and others?
Thanks to ground-breaking work from individuals like Marc Brackett (https://www.marcbrackett.com/about/book-permission-to-feel/) , we are starting to see just how important it is to teach emotional literacy in schools. Case in point: a child may have a high IQ, speak three languages, be a gifted athlete, and have a near- perfect ACT score, but if he can't regulate his emotions and work well with others, he probably will not succeed in college or in a career. As Brackett says, instead of teaching them to ignore or suppress feelings, we must give them "permission to feel." By bringing our awareness to our feelings, we are more apt to process our emotions and deal effectively with virtually any issue at hand. In other words, if we continue to stuff our feelings down or ignore them, they are eventually going to resurface even stronger in more destructive ways.
My favorite television show, Ted Lasso, is in the process of shattering the myth of what it means to be a "real man" by the way in which its characters are opening up themselves to emotional vulnerability. For example, Ted is finally opening up to what has been bothering him for so long (his father's suicide during his teen years). Another illustration of this is Jamie Tartt letting his emotional guard down by showing his feelings while dealing with the pain from his dysfunctional relationship with his father. And how about "tough guy" Roy Kent showing his caring side by doing things like hugging Tartt when needed it and taking tender care of his beloved little niece? With all of these breakthroughs going on in the show, I am holding out hope that Nate will get real with what's behind his maladaptive behaviors. Furthermore, by the way in which the last episode ended, I also have to wonder if Coach Beard is on the verge of some sort of emotional catharsis.
With all the sensational and nimble plot twists that this show throws at us, Nostradamus himself would have trouble predicting what is going to happen next with the storyline. However, one thing is certain: several of the characters in Ted Lasso embody a quote by Coach Beard's favorite mental health professional, Brene Brown: "Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they're never weakness."
After we finished our lunch and were walking out of the Mexican eatery, we passed the "F Your Feelings" t-shirt guy at his table, and I said to wife loudly enough for him to hear, "That Ted Lasso episode last night was great. Real men being authentic. Showing their feelings. I can't wait to watch it again." I am hoping he will at least be curious enough to check it out, but something tells me he won't.
Greg Graber, the author of Slow Your Roll- Mindfulness for Fast Times, teaches mindfulness and Social & Emotional (SEL) skills to schools, top sports teams, and various organizations around the world. Graber, a frequent keynote speaker, currently serves as the Director of SEL at Lausanne Collegiate School. He may be contacted through his website: www.greggraber.com