Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

This week, Fred Rogers’ would have celebrated his 84th Birthday.

Did you grow up watching him as I did? I often raced home after school each day, find a quick snack in the kitchen, lay my homework on the bed and turn on KHET to see Mister Rogers Neighborhood.

Mister Rogers and the trolley to the Neighborhood of Makebelieve.

Mister Rogers is more than a television presenter and producer. To me, he is one of the most important philosophers of our time. With a message that promoted love, acceptance and the struggle against the idea of “hate”—even the “little hates” that pervade our individual lives when we least expect they’d arise. Prejudice. Racism. Sexism. I would add homophobia and transphobia.

Central to his teaching, “Knowing that we can be loved exactly as we are gives us all the best opportunity for growing into the healthiest of people.” Mister Rogers also said, “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.”

HATE GROUPS PROTESTED MISTER ROGERS’ MEMORIAL SERVICE

Mister Rogers died of stomach cancer on February 27, 2003.

His memorial service on Saturday, May 3 of that year, at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Hall, was the scene of protest by anti-gay groups including Westboro, which decried that the television producer’s message was too open to “heathens” and “sinners.” Gay rights groups and peace activists held a counter protest, drowning hate groups’ voices by singing Mister Rogers’ songs, many of which are about acceptance.

Mental Floss (15 Reasons Mister Rogers Was the Best Neighbor Ever) wrote that Mister Rogers was probably the most tolerant American to have ever existed. “Mister Rogers seems to have been almost exactly the same off-screen as he was onscreen. As an ordained Presbyterian minister, and a man of tremendous faith, Mister Rogers preached tolerance first. Whenever he was asked to castigate non-Christians or gays for their differing beliefs, he would instead face them and say, with sincerity, ‘God loves you just the way you are.’ Often this provoked ire from fundamentalists.”

Remember the song that goes “It’s you I like?” Like many of Mister Rogers’ songs, there’s so much more behind the words.

Mister Rogers shared, “When I say it’s you I like, I’m talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.”

Perfect message to sing to a mob of haters, eh?

YOU ARE IMPORTANT

A major part of my own philosophy is that we are never inconsequential. Everyone we meet, even but for a small moment, we meet for a reason. I obviously brightened up when I first read that Mister Rogers believed in the same.

Mister Rogers said, “If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.” 

A DEEP SENSE OF WHO YOU ARE

There are some lines from Mister Rogers’ writings that can be haunting to me at a very intimate level. One I’ve been revisiting a lot lately is, “You rarely have time for everything you want in this life, so you need to make choices. And hopefully your choices can come from a deep sense of who you are.”

I’ve recently surrounded myself with a couple of guys who have a deep sense of who they are and have turned their Neighborhoods of Makebelieve into reality. They’re reawakening some of my own dormant dreams and have become empowering figures that have led me to some of my newest projects. And praise, Mister Rogers! I like to think his writings, his memories, have helped me find some needed inspiration in a moment where I felt a little disconnected and lost.

Feeling disconnected happens a lot to me, and I suppose to a lot of you, too. Disconnect is sometimes a feeling like something has come to an end. Mister Rogers had a thought for that, too.

YOU’RE ALWAYS AT THE BEGINNING

“Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.”

So. I’m standing at the beginning.

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