“The greatest thing we can do is to help somebody know that they’re loved and capable of loving.”
“Love is at the root of everything. All learning. All relationships. Love, or the lack of it.”
– Fred Rogers
Won’t You Be My Neighbor. [PG-13], 2018
I have no hesitations in calling Fred Rogers one of my heroes. This documentary only solidified that place in my heart. An ordained Presbyterian minister with a unique calling and mission to mass media and children, Fred Rogers was a figure I watched as a child, and a role model I continue to strive to emulate as an adult. For sure, he was an imperfect human being, complete with the doubts, insecurities, and questionable decisions that characterize all of our lives. But there are few in this world who have incarnated the love of God as purely as he, who fooled the entire world with a fully integrated authenticity–surely no one is that kind, and that empathetic all the time. Enfleshed in the man is what true commitment looks like, what living out core values means, and what the very best of humanity can offer one another, if we only considered carefully our deepest human longings and needs.
The great lamentation, one that is featured toward the end of the documentary, is the haunting question, Did “the way of Mr. Rogers” lose in the court of public opinion? For as popular as Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was (and continues to be, even through Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood), any survey of the mass media–especially for children–indicates that few, if any, adhere to Fred Rogers’ philosophy. Where else do we see this kind of deep intentionality toward education, empathy, and connection, rather than banal amusement, and dopamine hits? Who else sees the television–or Internet–in the words of Fred Rogers, as “holy ground” rather than mere “fertile profits?” Are we seeing greater kindness and love in this world as a result of media consumption, or… well, I think we know the answer to that.
While some may call Mr. Rogers a creative genius or media revolutionary–and he is both–I am inclined to use the word “saint,” someone who was set apart from the rest, devoted and anointed for a task like no other, to bring God’s love, compassion, kindness, and empathy to the world’s children through television.
May his tribe increase.