Remembering Mr. Rogers
“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.”
Fred Rogers (The World According to Mr. Rogers)
My son, Ian, showed me a video yesterday of Mr. Rogers' appeal to a Congressional Committee for funding for public television. The hearing was in 1969, and Mr. Rogers, in his speech to the distinguished committee members, was just as plain-spoken as when he talked to children on Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. He spoke of the importance of teaching children to manage their feelings in ways that didn't harm them or anyone else. He described play not as a reprieve from work, but as the actual work of childhood. He talked about teaching children to manage the pain of things that happen around them that they cannot understand by looking for the helpers. In the book published after his death, The World According to Mr. Rogers, he is quoted as saying: “There is no normal life that is free of pain. It's the very wrestling with our problems that can be the impetus for our growth.” For millions of children, Mr. Rogers did just that—he helped them wrestle with their feelings. That Congressional committee, by the way, awarded the network twenty million dollars to continue its important work.
When my sons were little, they loved Mr. Rogers. I recall watching his show with them and wondering what on earth they got from it. It seemed so bland to me. That is because he spoke directly to young children. There was no innuendo, no subtle double entendre, no attempt to entertain adults with wit or irony. He spoke directly to the hearts and minds of children in language they could understand. They felt loved by him just the way they were. There's a big lesson there for all of us. When we're dealing with feelings—our own, or someone else's—we should speak directly, clearly and without subterfuge. I don't know about you, but I don't always do that. I let my own needs and wants get in the way of understanding exactly what is needed in the moment. If we love someone, there is an on-going daily struggle to accept that person exactly as they are. I'm not there yet. I wonder whether you are.
In the Spirit,