It’s taken me a while to digest the movie, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. We saw it in Palm Springs with Rob and Erin and while I think we all enjoyed it, Mr. Rogers was such an unusual man that I needed to sit with the story for a while. The movie was quietly moving and its message deceptively simple: be kind.
But kindness isn’t an act to perform once in a while, or even several times a day. It’s a way of life and a lens through which someone like Mr. Rogers viewed the world. Kindness isn’t paying for someone’s coffee at a drive-thru and then humble-bragging about it on social media while you pull away flipping the bird at a driver who cuts you off. It’s a philosophy that guides every waking moment of someone like Fred Rogers.
The Raptitude shared a wonderful summary and lessons learned from the film: Mr. Rogers Wasn’t a Saint, He Was One of Us. The writer shares how his world changed after living the Mr. Rogers way.
Here’s how I interpret the motivation for Mr. Rogers’ behavior, which no matter how you assess it, made the world a better place.
Inside every adult is a little child who had a beloved toy he or she still fondly remembers. Or they longed for a special toy they were never given and had to watch as other kids enjoyed theirs. Every person carries with them a lingering childhood hurt, perhaps several of them, as small as a toy and as big as abuse or neglect. Some of us mask our pain with addictions or greed or relationship hopping or buying stuff that offers a temporary lift.
Under the surface, the painful memories are still there. They shape the way we see the world and our place in it. We come from an emotional deficit. All of us just want acceptance and love, even if it seems like that’s what we want the least. We don’t recognize our fears because we’ve buried them so deeply. Mr. Rogers saw into that part of us that needs gentleness. He moved slowly, took his time, didn’t rush through his life. He made those in his presence feel worthwhile and worth knowing.
Why don’t we all carry this understanding of others with us into every interaction we have? Being shown a little kindness makes a big difference, regardless of whether or not the recipient gets it. It’s the giving part that changes who we are and as a result, the way those around us choose to behave. No one would go on an angry, expletive-filled rant around Mr. Rogers. You wouldn’t dare! You’d conform to his calm presence because it’s powerful and simply a better way to be. And that’s how he changed the world.
Mrs. Rogers, who is still very much alive at 91, helped shape the movie about her late husband. She doesn’t want him thought of as a saint because that makes his style of living seem unattainable. It’s really not. It’s easy to adopt but difficult to sustain. That may be why Fred Rogers meditated and put tremendous effort into taming the temper he admitted he had but rarely – if ever – showed
Mr. Rogers lived in the moment. In the movie, he drove his TV crew crazy by spending so much time with on-set visitors that he held up production. It wasn’t because he was unprofessional. He simply cared about people so much that he wanted to help give them a better day. Growing self-confident children who learned how to recognize and manage their emotions was his purpose in life. These things should be important to all of us, not just when people are sweet and deserving. But even when they’re total turds. They developed that turd-like quality through their experiences and hurts. It wasn’t born into them. Mr. Rogers knew that and wanted them to know that it was okay, and so were they.