This week I watched a video clip of Mister Fred Rogers speaking before the Senate about funding for his PBS television show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. It was the same Mister Rogers my children (and I) watched every day. It was that same calm voice, quirky smile, kind spirit and sensibility. That man was a genius and if we could only have cloned him, I believe this world would be a different place today.
In the clip, Mister Rogers talks about starting with his first television program in 1954 at the cost of $30. In 1969 he said the cost was about $6,000. He went on to say that amount was what it cost to produce about two minutes of cartoons or what he sometimes referred to as “animated bombardment”. He shared that children need to understand their feelings are “mentionable and manageable” and that it was “much more dramatic for two men to be working out their feelings of anger than by showing something of gunfire”. You could see his genuine and sincere love for the future of our children when he said, “I’m very much concerned about what’s being delivered to our children in this country”. He went on to explain a bit about what the show was taught, “We deal with such things as the inner drama of childhood. We don’t have to bop somebody over the head to make drama on the screen. We deal with such things as getting a haircut, or the feelings about brothers and sisters or the kind of anger that arises in simple family situations and we speak to it constructively. I give an expression of care every day to each child, to help him realize that he is unique. I end the program by saying, ‘You’ve made this day a special day, by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you, and I like you, just the way you are.’” That is Fred Rogers . . . affirming, encouraging, motivating, inspiring, loving and kind.
Mister Rogers delivered the “crowning blow” at that Senate hearing, not by shouting or insulting or using sarcasm or verbal barbs. No, he delivered the crowning blow by asking if he could recite the lyrics to one of his original songs:
What do you do with the mad that you feel
When you feel so mad you could bite?
When the whole wide world seems oh, so wrong…
And nothing you do seems very right?
What do you do? Do you punch a bag?
Do you pound some clay or some dough?
Do you round up friends for a game of tag?
Or see how fast you go?
It’s great to be able to stop
When you’ve planned a thing that’s wrong,
And be able to do something else instead
And think this song:
I can stop when I want to
Can stop when I wish.
I can stop, stop, stop any time.
And what a good feeling to feel like this
And know that the feeling is really mine.
Know that there’s something deep inside
That helps us become what we can.
For a girl can be someday a woman
And a boy can be someday a man.
Mister Rogers could have come out swinging at the very thought of PBS funding being cut, but he didn’t. He behaved in a respectful, kind, and loving manner because that’s who he was. That’s what he taught and that’s what he lived. He had no desire to put anyone down for suggesting such a cut or ridicule them at the very thought. No, he seized a teachable moment and he taught kindness, by modeling it. He taught kindness through his words, his expressions, his demeanor, his responses, his respect, and his presence. Oh, to only be one small portion of that man in how we present ourselves to the world. Well, I’m going to try. I’m going to try to seize the teachable moments in my life when maybe, just maybe, I can make even a very small positive difference in someone’s life. I’m going to try.
I love that Mister Rogers ended every show with, “You’ve made this day a special day, by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you, and I like you, just the way you are.” No doubt, all those years watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood with my own children touched me in a very special way, as I was motivated to write my SMART Parts Series for children, helping them understand they are all SMART in their own special way! So, I thank you, Fred Rogers, for what you did for children everywhere, for my own children, and for me. I’ll end with more precious lyrics from Mister Rogers, because this is how I feel about him:
You are my friend
You are special
You are my friend
You’re special to me.
You are the only one like you.
Like you, my friend, I like you.
Oh, and Senator Pastore’s response to Mister Rogers? “I think it’s wonderful. I think it’s wonderful. Looks like you just earned the 20 million dollars.” Here’s to Teachable Moments and one of our greatest teachers!