Thinking About Mr. Rogers
I was able to witness as a child in the late 1960’s and early 1970s the emergence of public television. One of those shows I watched as a kid was Mister Roger’s Neighborhood, where Fred Rogers managed both a studio set neighborhood of actors and a separate Neighborhood of Make-Believe that had a combination of marionette puppets and real people.
Even as a child I was struck by the gentle yet direct way Mr. Rogers dealt with tough issues like death, divorce, war, anger, and pain. In today’s language I suppose he was very authentic. I prefer the term trustworthy.
Fred Rogers passed away from stomach cancer in 2003 at the age of 74 and his wife Joanne passed away just this past month (January 2021) at the ripe old age of 92. I discovered in reading about Joanne’s passing that she and Fred’s company assembled three short books of Fred’s most memorable nuggets of wisdom — about imagination, losing well, patience, perseverance, the power of creativity, kindness, empathy, and hope.
My adult mind being what it is, I bought the books with the objective of revisiting and extracting life lessons that Fred Rogers communicated through these books. I wanted to make the effort to see the world through Mr. Roger’s eyes.
Deep and simple is better. Brevity has value.
There is a fundamental message that all humans are imperfect. We all have flaws and we all make mistakes. Part of the challenge in growing up is understanding and accepting our own flaws and limitations. Part of the challenge of being a responsible adult is the struggle to compensate, adapt, and overcome those flaws. Part of the challenge of being a good human is helping others through their struggles. The goal of our struggles is to discover and enable inherent value.
The moral senses of sympathy and responsible compassion guided Mr. Rogers through his life. There were three dominant themes I pulled from the books.
Appreciation and Gratitude. It’s important to recognize and enjoy a person’s good qualities, and important to be a conscientious and thankful receiver.
Honesty and Truth. Honesty is often very hard and the harsh truth is often painful, but responsible compassion and desire for deciding the best path forward requires a best possible understanding of reality. Freedom that truth brings makes it worth the pain. Truth and honesty leads to trust and freedom.
Trust and the Golden Rule. The ultimate compassionate responsibility humans have is simply the Golden Rule: treat our neighbors — especially our neighbors in need — as we would hope to be treated ourselves. The Golden Rule is mutually beneficial and thus creates mutual trust.
When you put it all together: sympathetic responsible compassion, appreciation and gratitude, honesty & truth, trustworthiness… Mr. Rogers defined what it means to lead a life of love. Love is an action word, reflecting the struggle to overcome our weaknesses through relationships. Love means never being too satisfied with the status quo. No matter what our age or condition, disappointments that pop up show us our limitations and compensating for those limitations create new opportunities; new paths; new goals to strive for, and creation of new value in the world around us.
When I was a kid, my dad would often advise “Always give from the heart, and you’ll get ten times in return.” Same basic idea, simple and deep.