I very much believe that the root of all our nations problems stems from the fact that Americans are now too cynical. They lack wonder and the ability to suspend disbelief. They want their movies ever more gritty, ever more realistic, ever more violent. They complain that things in a fantasy movie just aren’t realistic. Well…duh. If you can’t act like a child or see the glory of the earth through eyes that appreciate wonder and beauty, or if you can’t feel joy or a giddy sensation of anticipation, then you are broken. There’s a line between being childish, and child-like. As adults we have responsibility. We can face them head on and act like grown ups but still maintain a child-like demeanor and outlook. To be childish is to believe the world owes you something.
Mister Rogers was, by all accounts, a good and honest man.
He put forward an image of kindness and love and all who knew him agreed that was real – it was who he was. Though some people, as the article points out, might misunderstand his message of self-worth and love today, those who watched the show understood it. Mister Rogers wasn’t saying you were entitled to anything other than to be treated like a human being. I feel we’ve lost that. We’ve lost the ability to sit with those who are different from us and learn from them earnestly. There’s a reason Mister Rogers asked, “won’t you be my neighbor?”
In Christianity (Fred Rogers was an ordained minister) the question of being a neighbor is of vital importance. Jesus was asked by one of the lawyers what he had to do to gain eternal life. Jesus turned it around and asked him, “What is written in the law? how readest though?” and the answer was correctly given that you had to love God and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus agreed with the man and said he was right. The bible says the man then tried to “justify himself” with a question. What I think it means by “justify himself” is that the man likely felt he wasn’t all that kind to his neighbors. So the man asked just who was meant by “neighbor”. Jesus replied with what we now know as the “Parable of the Good Samaritan”. Jesus also said that these two things, loving God and loving your neighbor were the two greatest commandments. So great in fact that he said, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” That’s a pretty big deal. The entire system of Christianity hangs on those two things.
One doesn’t have to be a Christian to see how important loving other people is though.
Love is a tenant of almost all the world’s religions. Once humans moved beyond shamanistic practices and paganism to a god that was a personal god the view of god changed. God as “father” replaced the wooden idol or the angry god that withheld rain at a whim. God was a god that wished the best for us and wanted his children to follow in his foot steps.
Mister Rogers displayed that image, that fatherly image, each time he was on the screen. Am I comparing him to God? Why yes, of course I am! Because that’s exactly who he was trying to imitate. He was trying to be like the idea of God he had in his head. He was being god-like in the best sense of the term.
Now, I know for some this is an awful lot of “god-talk” and it makes you uncomfortable because you don’t believe in god. Some of you may even have come to see god and religion as negative. I understand.
Let’s look at religion logically and for those who believe you can continue to look at god with eyes of faith.
Logic you see, does actually work as a means to view God. You can understand the messages of scripture and the benefits of doctrine without believing their source is supernatural. My saying that might upset some religious folks, I understand that too. But I personally feel that the incredible thing about religion is that it can be seen as logical and faithful at the same time. That’s a pretty amazing feat if you think about it.
As a quick aside, take for example the teaching of “an eye for an eye”. Some wrongly see that as okaying vengeance. That’s not what it does. For the first time in recorded human history one man’s eye was equal to another man’s eye. As odd as it sounds, that wasn’t always the case. The king could poke our your eye and he may compensate you (if he chose) for your loss in a way he saw fit. If you, on the other hand, poked out the king’s eye you would be put to death. His eye, was worth your life. But suddenly, his eye, was worth the same as your eye. That was new and bold thinking.
But how do you get the king to buy into this? The logical thing to do would be to have the edict come from someone greater than the king – God. In the biblical text God had already shown himself to be more powerful than Pharaoh the greatest king at the time on earth. Tell a king who believes that, or tell a king who is king over a people who believe that, and he’s going to have to mind his manners.
You see, if you believe in God then it was an edict from on high. If you don’t, then it was a brilliant political move that thrust the idea of equality (for the first time) into human society. Logical and brilliant in its simplicity and function.
Think about today’s problems.
Think about antifa, think about rights being violated, think about the anger back and forth between sides. Go through it all in your mind for a while. Is there a single problem that living like Mister Rogers encouraged wouldn’t fix?
What we need now is more Mister Rogers and less Donald Trump. That’s not really a direct knock against Trump either. He’s just an example of the thorn that is in the side of America. It’s an attitude that has come to prevail. We’ve forgotten just who our neighbor is. We know how we want to be treated but seem unwilling anymore to treat our neighbor like ourselves. That’s the foundational principle behind a system based on unalienable rights. We ALL have them equally and therefore should treat all rights the same as we want our own treated. Mr. Rogers knew this.
He said once, “If you grew up with our Neighborhood, you may remember how we sometimes talked about difficult things. There were days … even beautiful days … that weren’t happy. In fact, there were some that were really sad. Well, we’ve had a lot of days like that in our whole world. We’ve seen what some people do when they don’t know anything else to do with their anger.
I’m convinced that when we help our children find healthy ways of dealing with their feelings–ways that don’t hurt them or anyone else–we’re helping to make our world a safer, better place.”
And he’s right. We talk about banning guns to stop school shootings, we talk about letting teachers be armed to stop school shootings. Mister Rogers talked about teaching the child love of others and self-worth as means to keep them from ever wanting to pull the trigger in the first place.
Does that all sound a bit – naive?
If it does, well then, you get the point.
A new documentary offers a chance to reconsider Rogers’s mission and examine why his message is still so hard for adults to hear.