We watched Tom Hanks’ masterful portrayal of 6th cousin Fred Rogers on the big screen this past week. This break from superheroes and fast pace action movies provided a much appreciated break to my soul. Fred Rogers touched everyone he encountered, which made a wonderful storyline for the movie about him. We expected a review of Rogers’ life and were pleasantly surprised by this third person account of how he changed the life of a journalist from Esquire Magazine a few years before his death.
Fred Rogers achieved a great deal during his 74 years on this earth. His 50-year marriage to his wife and the 895 episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood would surely rank among his favorites. Regardless of his Seminary education and Ministerial ordination, he was accepted as a champion of “civility, tolerance, sharing and self-worth” in the Washington Post eulogy about him over 16 years ago.
It’s no wonder that a movie to extoll these virtues would be received so well in a time that seems to lack all of the above.
The preacher who chose to speak by example still brings a smile and a song to the lips of those he touched a generation ago. The message of his little theme song and the reassuring lessons from his make-believe world were anything but make believe. Words about caring and understanding and listening and controlling our anger still protect our psyche today. He taught us how to think before we speak and how to deal with tough things that happen in life—like starting school, reacting to a newborn who invades your house or even divorce or death. His episode about Robert Kennedy’s assassination aired only a few days after the event in 1968. He insisted on helping us with the important feelings and hard challenges of life.
Hanks’ depiction in the movie portrayed a man who would focus on the other person’s needs before his own. Even when being interviewed, he would ask questions about the personal life and hurts of the one interviewing him. He cared and it showed in his questions and his quiet but invasive manner. How could anyone refuse his sincere concern?
Our world needs more men like Fred Rogers. We desperately need the quiet civility he modeled. If we could deal with our issues in the manner he modeled we would have much less pain and much more cooperation. Things wouldn’t go undone because we would care more about outcomes than posturing or positioning.
His manner rose out of his belief system. The core character inside us drives the methods and purposes outside. Actions that accuse and undermine others comes from a character driven by arrogance and power-hungry dominance. Spending time reflecting on our inner selves prevents a great deal of mistakes and misfires in our outer world.
I’d like to think more of us want to be more like Mr. Rogers. Being neighborly doesn’t cost a thing. Living with a song instead of living with spite pays great dividends. Extending a hand of invitation beats clenching a fist of resistance any day. What about it, neighbor?