“Don’t you like to be with real people? People who aren’t afraid to make mistakes, and people who just know that life is a gift and relish in it?” Fred Rogers
One of the most terrifying moments of television for me was when Mr. Rogers was on Candid Camera. I watched Mr. Rogers on PBS as a kid and I adored him. He talked to us about everything; feelings, death, how to make friends, and how people were different. I didn’t enjoy the land of make-believe, I wanted facts as a child. And Fred Rogers delivered on that front by taking us to factories long before How It’s Made debuted. He meticulously worked through complicated ideas for us. And the glorious music! It was not a show for adults. It was just for us.
Years and years later, while watching Candid Camera, there was his familiar face. Candid Camera was trying to aggravate people by giving them a room without a television and I watched, while holding my breath, to see if this would be the undoing of a childhood hero. I shouldn’t have worried, Mr. Rogers was the same person I had watched everyday. A little older, but just as kind. You can see the clip here. Thank goodness, he was real.
Kindness and Wonder, Why Mr. Rogers Matters Now More Than Ever by Gavin Edwards is a lovingly written biography of the man and the show. Fred Rogers grew up in the wealthiest family in his town but that a combination of his wealth and asthma led him to be isolated for his own safety and often playing alone. His ability to remember his childhood and the way he felt during those times gave such vulnerability and credibility to his message. His mission, to use all of his gifts, combined with his understanding and his constant desire to help is what created the magic that was, and for many children still is, Mister Rogers Neighborhood.
This book not only reminded me of all the things I love about Fred Rogers it also gave me the personal side of why he did the things he did. Certainly, the biggest complaint most people have about Mr. Rogers is the pace of his deliver. But, he was so determined to be both a good listener and a person whose words children could rely on that he learned to carefully select his words whenever he spoke. His show was scripted and he insisted that everyone adhere to the script. Adults may not have enjoyed it but that was fine since he only cared about how children felt. He knew the power of the right word to a child and he made sure to work hard to provide all the best words, phrases, and messages.
Mr. Rogers cared so deeply he is often credited with single handedly saving public television as we know it today. In 1969 President Nixon wanted to cut the budget for public broadcasting to free up funds for the war in Vietnam. President Johnson had budgeted twenty million dollars for public broadcasting and Nixon wanted to cut it in half. Mr. Rogers appeared before the subcommittee late on the second day of a two day hearing to face an already disgruntled Senator Pastore. As Mr. Rogers took the witness table it seemed that the subcommittee was unconvinced that public television would put the full amount to any good use. In fact, so sick of hearing from people, the Senator had said he would listen to no more pre-prepared statements.
But, through his quiet way, Mr. Rogers impressed upon the committee how the funding would help children process the inner drama of childhood. His argument was so eloquently put and so concisely phrased he gave Senator Pastore goosebumps. You can watch, in this video, the Senator’s mind being changed in less than seven minutes. It was how much Mr. Rogers cared for children and how important that work was that made the Senator declare, “Looks like you just earned the twenty million dollars.”
Whether you enjoyed the show or not, even if you haven’t seen a single episode, this book will impress you at the sheer determination this individual put into being a good neighbor. And isn’t that something we should all aspire to be? The author gives ten ways to be more like Mister Rogers today:
Be deep and simple
Be kind to strangers
Make a joyful noise
Tell the truth
Connect with other people every way you can
Love your neighbors
Find the light in the darkness
Always see the very best in other people
Accept the changing seasons
Share what you’ve learned (all your life)
And I want a neighborhood expression of care. Because we still need someone telling us all “You’ve made this day a special day, just by being you. There’s no one in the whole world like you and I like you just the way you are.” And, today, it starts with me. So, if you are reading this, just know:
I like you just the way you are.
Tell me, please!
Who is a childhood hero you aspire to emulate?