Everything I Need to Know, I Learned From Toby Ziegler

Hello, and Happy Memorial Day. On super American holidays, I like to acknowledge something that I believe to be really American, and by that, I mostly mean The West Wing. Luckily, today is both a truly American holiday and it is Richard Schiff‘s birthday, which means we are acknowledging arguably the best Sorkin character of all time!

EINTKILF Toby Ziegler

1. Veterans should be respected, regardless of class. Anyone who watches The West Wing probably has “In Excelsis Deo” in the list of their favorite episodes because A) Sorkin does Christmas very, very well and B) Toby is boss in this episode. Toby receives a call to come identify a body because (as it turns out) the homeless man had been wearing his donated coat at the time of death. Toby becomes fixated on finding the man’s family–he tracks down his also-homeless brother–and eventually uses his political connections, arranging a proper military funeral for the man. 

President Bartlet: Toby, If we start pulling strings like this don’t you think every homeless veteran will come out of the woodwork? Toby: I can only hope so, sir.

Toby is so wonderfully Toby in “In Excelsis Deo,” and Schiff won an Emmy for the episode, and it always makes me cry.

Oh, and C) Mrs. Landingham. Another great reason.

2. Buying the love of your life a house does not guarantee anything. Toby and his ex-wife Andy have a pretty depressing relationship, if I am being honest. I am always bummed out watching Toby love Andy, and watching Andy–such strength and strong will!–stick to her guns on not taking him back. While Andy is quite pregnant (like literally full-term) with their twins, Toby buys her a house in a supreme effort to get her to remarry him. In what is probably the saddest scene ever (no, you guys! “Casino Night” is not the saddest episode of a show!), Andy tells Toby that she will not remarry him because he is “too sad.” 

Andy: You’re sad. And you’re angry and you’re not warm. You take forever to trust someone.

Heart…breaking. Still. Every time.

Toby is sad, and now I am too.

3. But then also: babies come with hats. So then Andy goes into labor and Toby meets his twins, Molly and Huck, and it is the sweetest. He tells them that he didn’t know that babies come with hats (this is a bad lesson: babies don’t actually come with hats), and also that they crack him up because they don’t have jobs, they can’t walk or talk, they don’t have money, but they have hats.

It’s all good with a hat.

4. The best cure-all is throwing a ball against a window. It is also the best way to get someone to come to you. Will: What are you doing? Toby: I throw a rubber ball against the window, that means you come to me. Will: Really? Toby: As my frustration grows, so does the velocity of the ball against the window.

Some people squeeze stress balls. Toby throws them.

Also, there is a Twitter account for Toby’s ball because this is a beautiful world.

5. You have to come to a verb eventually. We all know that Toby and Sam have potentially the greatest work relationship of all-time, right? I mean yes, there are an endless number of phenomenal co-worker relationships on The West Wing alone, but Toby and Sam are just something else. Any scene with the two of them interacting with one another is so endearing this little heart can hardly handle it. 

Toby: Sam, you’re going to come to a verb soon, right? Sam: Okay, you know what this is called? Toby: Bad writing? Sam: Imagery. Toby: Well, you say potato.

Sam is a fantastic writer, but since Toby is his mentor, we should be listening to Toby. Come to a verb, you know, eventually.

6. It’s called a hug.

7. Loyalty comes first. (My favorite lesson, in all of life.)

Toby: We’re a group. We’re a team. From the President and Leo on through, we’re a team. We win together, we lose together. We celebrate and we mourn together. And defeats are softened and victories sweeter because we did them together. You’re my guys and I’m yours, and there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you.

I am all about those diehard friendships, even the ones that begin at work.

8. The correct order of the Commandments. I thought I might have already discussed this lesson when I wrote on President Bartlet awhile back, but I guess I haven’t! Regardless, the real lesson isn’t about the correct order of the Commandments because I could really care less about all of that, but! Toby stands up against something he was never really supportive of in the first place, which is what we should all really pull from this scene.

John Van Dyke: The First Commandment says “Honor thy Father–” Toby: No, it doesn’t. Josh: Toby– Toby: It doesn’t. Josh: Listen– Toby: No if I’m going to make you sit through this preposterous exercise, we’re going to get the names of the damn commandments right. Mary Marsh: Okay. Here we go. Toby: Honor thy father is the Third Commandment. John Van Dyke: Then what’s the First Commandment? President Bartlet: “I am the Lord your God. Thou shalt worship no other god before me.” Boy, those were the days, huh?

Toby cracked, because when you are forced to sit down and speak with idiots, the strong are likely to crack. As we should.

9. “Government can be a place where people come together… …and no one gets left behind. NO ONE gets left behind.”

One of the only things I don’t like about watching The West Wing is that I begin to yearn for politicians to truly be like the characters on this show. Don’t we all wish President Bartlet was our President? And this is coming from an Obama girl, through and through. In the episode “He Shall From Time to Time,” Toby convinces Bartlet to cut the sentiment of “the era of big government” being “over.” A great Toby speech ensues, and of course, he persuades the President.

Toby: …we have to say what we feel, that government no matter what its failures in the past, and in times to come for that matter, government can be a place where people come together and where no one gets left behind. No one gets left behind. An instrument of good. I have no trouble understanding why the line tested well, Josh, but I don’t think that means we should say it. I think that means we should change it. President Bartlet: I think so, too. What do you think, Josh? Josh: I make it a point never to disagree with Toby when he’s right, Mr. President.

And of course, much later in the series, the sentiment is revisited between Will Bailey and Toby.

Will: I heard once–I don’t know if this is true–I heard once that you convinced the President to let you rewrite a section of the State of the Union with less than twenty-four hours to go. It was the second year and everybody was a Republican, whether they were or not, and people at the DNC had convinced him to include the line, ‘The era of big government is over.’ And you couldn’t live with it. Because government should be a place where people come together and no one gets left behind. An instrument of good. And that’s exactly what we heard in the State of the Union the next night. Toby: There were maybe four people in the room when I had that conversation. Will: Well, if I’d have been one of them, I would have repeated it to everyone I met.

Toby is always right. Bonus lesson.

10. Never talk during The Jackal.

Don’t talk to Toby during The Jackal. The greatest.

All images via my besties notabadday, and thefinestmuffinsandbagels. Some lessons learned / taught to me by my IRL best friend Lauren, who introduced me to The West Wing. (Love you, LaurBoar.)

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