“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say, “It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.” Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.” ― Fred Rogers
With the resurgence of interest in Fred Rogers this year (with a documentary and Hollywood movie made about him), I asked myself, why now? This man had been around for decades and passed away years ago. Why is he suddenly a hero when for years he was the butt of jokes and ridicule?
I am ashamed to admit that during my youth and early adult life, I was one of those people who made fun of Fred Rogers. Like many people, I saw him as an odd duck, a milquetoast. He seemed a caricature of a “goodie-two-shoes”.
The years passed. He continued to pursue his calling and I followed mine. Fred Rogers was certainly never on my radar screen for several decades. Then, one day, everything changed. I became a mother. While my daughter grew through the toddler and pre-K years, we would, oddly enough, become fans of Fred Rogers. After lunch each day, we would often sit together on the couch and watch Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. She loved the show and I appreciated that it did not have the frenetic pace of other children’s shows and cartoons.
Slowly, I began to see what this wonderful man was trying to do. I watched him more analytically than I had in my youth and I could see that with his deep authenticity and caring personality, he was able to create a safe and happy place for kids from all backgrounds and circumstances. He modeled polite and decent behaviors, patience, a deep interest in his fellow citizens, and a sense of wonder and a delight regarding the world we share. His main interest, it seemed, was to put a spotlight on others, not talk about himself. He seemed to revel in our diversity as human beings and focus on what we had in common. He celebrated the unique gifts of each person and what we all could contribute to the greater good.
One day, watching his show, I became overwhelmed with emotion. This was the day when I came to deeply understand and appreciate the value of and need for this amazing, loving man. As our social fabric and family lives began to erode, he was the steady man at the helm, helping children to cope and weather the storm. His calm demeanor and uplifting messages worked on my spirit, too. I had never expected that to happen.
I decided that I would write to him. I had never written to anyone famous in my life. I don’t even know what propelled me to do it, but I went upstairs while my daughter napped and penned a letter to him. In it, I thanked him for the wonderful role model he had been for children, but especially for boys – that I appreciated his quiet, gentle and calm way of talking to children. I told him that I valued the peaceful, unhurried, and happy place he created for children every day.
I put my letter in the mailbox and did not give it much more thought. Several months later, I opened my mailbox to find a large envelope from Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. Inside, there were two letters. One to me, from Fred Rogers, and one he wrote for my daughter. Mr. Rogers was known for writing his own letters and answered thousands of them personally. The package also included postcards of Daniel Tiger, the Trolley, King Friday and the rest of the puppet cast. These two letters are prized possessions.
Why We Love and Admire Fred
I believe that Fred Rogers is so popular now because we desperately want someone of decency and character to look up to, to emulate. We are looking for a hero — someone who demands more of us as human beings instead of someone who encourages our worst and most selfish instincts.
Mr. Rogers wasn’t perfect or without his own struggles, but he did try to model the best about what it means to be a human being and caring member of society. His actions modeled:
- Acceptance and Love –– no matter who you were – you were special to him. He did not try to diminish, shame or name-call. He did not label people.
- Respect for Your Fellow Man and Woman — We all deserve this basic decency, no matter what race, background, political party, gender or religious group we are from.
- Empathy and Kindness – He took time to make everyone feel heard, understood and valued.
- Gratitude for What Others Bring to Our Lives– Seeing the uniqueness and value of each individual was his strong suit.
- Disciplined Actions and Words – He was a very disciplined man who controlled the use of his time, his words and his impact on others through a careful and consistent approach.
- Commitment to Making a Difference –Even when people ridicule you.
People said he was a dreamer, supremely naïve, and not a real man. But I encourage you to see the documentary about this remarkable person.You might just find yourself wondering how much better this world might be if there were more people like Fred Rogers in it.