Everyone knows of “Sesame Street” – with Big Bird and the smaller Muppets – but, “Mr. Rogers’ Neighbourhood” was a children’s TV first: kids talking about their feelings and dealing with them.
Not your typical “pie-in-the-face”, Bozo-the-clown-type kid’s show… Mr. Rogers respected his young viewers too much, saying, “You made it a special day for me. You know how? by just being yourself. There’s only one person in the whole world like you and I like you just the way you are.” It was always, a beautiful day in the “neighbourhood.”
Whereas, other kid’s shows primarily taught the ABC’s and numbers, he discussed emotional coping skills and the development of a positive self-image. For over 30 years, he was like a life coach for kids (and parents) dispelling their fears by having them look beyond themselves to consider others’ feelings.
Fred’s show won major awards; however, I admired his personal discipline – his life being extraordinarily regulated. Early to bed, up pre-5am for prayers (an ordained minister), responding to scores of letters and swimming laps before most folks were even awake. Later, at the TV studio, he wrote the script, created the music, and was the voice behind his puppets.
He renewed his faith daily. If his work couldn’t directly help, he’d “help the helpers” – those healing a hurting world.
“He earned his love through discipline, a thundering velvet hand.
His gentle means of sculpting souls took me years to understand.”
– Leader of the Band by Dan Fogelberg
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What makes helpers like him tick? I believe his faith emulated the world’s greatest humanitarians – like Nelson Mandela observing, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” And, Mother Teresa of Calcutta saying, “… people of today do not think that the poor are like them… they look down on them. But… they too, are children of God.”
Fred’s legacy includes encouraging children to proudly recognize their uniqueness; because, there’re many – directly or indirectly – who would tell them otherwise. With Mr. Rogers, they had loving permission to believe in themselves and others… to leave room for dreams. We’ve known leaders like him, but how can we measure up? Anytime! His eternal invitation is to ride the “Neighbourhood Trolley” in your own way. Poet, Maya Angelou, suggested, “If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.”
There were also visitors including “Officer Clemmons” – played by Francois Clemmons – portraying a friendly neighbourhood cop, who in 1969 shared Fred’s kiddie foot-bath and towel. Innocent enough now, but back then it was considered radical – Clemmons was black… standing against a background of segregated public pools. But, Rogers fearlessly challenged actions that hurt children: like racism, anger, bullying, divorce, death and gun violence. One boy asked, “How do I get the mad out?” Mr. Rogers’ advice? “As you grow… showing and telling people that you love them… these are the most important things you’ll ever learn to do.”
There’re many ways to show you care. Mr. Roger’s way was through kindness, trust, love and empathy: some call it grace.
Roger that, Fred.