Lessons from Mr. Rogers
Recently, I saw the movie “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” a documentary on the life of Fred Rogers, who became famous with his PBS show for children, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. The score of the movie was written by Memphian Jonathan Kirkscey. I was a teenager when he launched his show for children, so I didn’t pay much attention to him for most of my life. After seeing this movie, I am now one of his biggest fans.
Mr. Rogers saw good in every person and helped children believe in themselves. His critics accuse him of making life too easy for children – praising children for having accomplished nothing or making no effort.
That is so far from the truth.
While he did believe that every child has worth and should be given the chance to succeed, he did not believe life was easy; success should not be handed to children. Instead, he believed in making children “strong.” He distinguished between being strong and being violent or aggressive. He rightly realized that, in today’s world, strength is often associated with violence. Instead, he believed that children can be made strong through love.
Of the many ways we should celebrate Mr. Rogers, I am drawn to his definition of love. He wrote “Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like ‘struggle.’ To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”
To equate love with struggle is so very wise. Love is never easy, whether you are an adult or a child, but especially for children. From my observation, children can teach us the power and strength of accepting people exactly the way they are, right here and now.
Mr. Rogers saw how children could show adults how to live love in the here and now. His insights were profound 20 years ago and make even more sense today.
After 9/11, Mr. Rogers became despondent, afraid people would see his message as foolhardy and overly trusting. But he continued to believe that “being a neighbor,” even those who challenge us, is the only way to foster a peaceful world. We need to hear and repeat Mr. Rogers’ message every day.
This past week, schools throughout Shelby County opened for the new school year. We must give our greatest treasure, the children of Memphis, the opportunity to see, experience and feel love. And for our schools, along with our newly elected local officials, I offer one last message from Mr. Rogers:
“There are three ways to ultimate success:
The first is to be kind.
The second is to be kind.
The third is to be kind.”