Without question, Mister Rogers was the television personality who had as big an influence on my life as my family. Mister Rogers had a unique way of speaking directly to us, right through the television. He talked to us as peers, guiding us to be in touch with our emotions, fostering a generation of kids with a curiosity and a vocabulary for talking with others about emotions and things inside. For many, Mister Rogers was the only person who spoke them about these things.
In considering America today, I believe morality and ethics will be the common ground that America and the world will come back to. Truth may be questionable in an era of fake news, but what’s right is always right and decency to others still stands. I’ve probably watched the video of Mister Rogers testifying before a Senate committee determined to stop government funding of PBS a dozen times, and I still tear up every time he recites the lyrics to the song “What Do You Do With The Mad That You Feel?”. To see the way Mister Rogers connected to the most cold hearted politician in such a deeply moving human way shows me there can be hope. There was once a time when an opposing politician would pause, listen, and make an ethical call to benefit children instead of deciding purely along party lines and rhetoric. With so many government programs we have taken for granted on the chopping block, America needs to hold its representatives accountable to listen to us now more than ever.
I never got to meet him, but sharing the name Fred meant that there was a special closeness about the way I identified with Mister Rogers as a child. I think he connected to everyone that way– This 1998 Esquire piece paints a great picture of him, and this piece in Salon is another I found that conjectures about what his positions might have evolved to in our day and age. Over the last few years (through her friendship with Kevin Smith of all people), I have rediscovered someone else from the neighborhood, Betty Aberlin. Her character Lady Aberlin’s royalty was metaphorical for the nobility we all have within ourselves. In this interview, she speaks about the need for more low key and gentle male role models like Mister Rogers, Alan Alda on M*A*S*H, and more recently Obama. I think she’s right.
With the lack of civility in recent public discourse, more than ever we need role models that teach us the importance of mutual respect and living life as a quest for continued personal growth. Kids and adults need to learn to think much more about “we” than “me”, and we all need to eat a slice of humble pie and realize it’s not about divisions, but about coming together, preferably in the real world. Face it, it’s a lot harder to be nasty to one another when we’re not hiding behind our screens. Regardless of what tribes we belong to, it’s time for us to come together as a society with a renewed moral compass, one whose values everyone can agree on. Living with love, integrity, virtue, and respect for others – without a need to impose our views upon them, and holding that the value of the common good is as important as that of our own.
Where are you, Mister Rogers? Come back.
Remind us to keep aiming high.