As most of you know, I am a big fan of Mr. Fred Rogers. For the younger generation that follow me who may not have ever heard of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, it was a children’s show on public television. On this show Mr. Rogers taught kids very valuable life lessons. Things like how to express your feelings. The importance of maintaining a positive attitude. He also spoke of complicated things like death and divorce. He discussed these topics in a simple way that children could understand them.
In my mind, this had to be a very difficult thing to do. As adults we tend to over complicate nearly everything we do. Taking a complicated subject, such as divorce, and breaking it down to help children understand what is going on takes a lot of work. Mr. Rogers also broke down many barriers before their time. When people of different races were not allowed in the same swimming pool and tensions were high, Mr. Rogers invited his neighborhood friend Officer Clemmons, who is African-American, to soak his feet in the swimming pool with him. They sat and talked. Not about Racism or even the current pool segregation. Instead they talked about how hot it was. When Officer Clemmons remarked he did not have a towel, Mr. Rogers quickly volunteered to share his.
This may not seem like anything so remarkable on the surface, but in 1969 when the episode aired, it was. People of different colors were not supposed to swim together and certainly not share a towel. Now take time to think that this was on a children’s television show. People in their formative years were watching this. They were not hearing an argument as to what was or should be. They were not being preached at. They were being shown an example of how people should treat each other.
Leading by example was something often seen on Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. I recall an episode where he visited a restaurant to show children what that was like. He was courteous, and well-mannered. He didn’t say, “Now this is how you behave here.” He just did. Another thing I recall from both that episode and others, was how he seemed in awe of everything and everyone. Some may take a person making a sandwich for granted. Not Fred Rogers. He genuinely complimented the people throughout his entire visit. He also seemed entirely grateful. He seemed to find joy in the smallest things. From everything I have seen and read, Fred Rogers was this type of person off the screen as well.
Here is where you and your job comes in. Mr. Fred Rogers died in 2003. He was a dynamic man with a heart bigger than most people I can think of. His ‘Neighborhood’ was a fictitious place, but it doesn’t have to be. Each one of us can be the Mr. Rogers of our own neighborhoods. We can teach by example. We can treat everyone we meet with reverence and respect. As one of my other mentors, Earl Nightingale, said, “We do this because that is how people ought to be treated.” Treat each day and thing as a miracle – because they are. Foster an attitude of gratitude. There is always so much to be thankful for. When others try to divide us, love one another. A loving example can be just as powerful as a speech, sometimes even more so.
This piece of advice was given by Mr. Rogers during many crisis. It couldn’t hold more weight today. In this social media driven world we can tend to see and focus on only the bad and negative. That is very easy to do, it is plastered all over the place. One way we can be like Mr. Rogers and help us all to have more ‘beautiful days in the neighborhood’ is to look for the helpers, the people who are helping. Find the people helping to clean up the environment. Find those trying to help the old and sick. Find those who are trying to bring people together instead of driving them apart. Join these people. Support these people. Most of all – become one of these people. In short – become the Mr. Rogers of your neighborhood.