What We Can Learn from Mr. Rogers Today

Recently, I’ve been learning a bit more about Mr. Rogers. Some of us know him as the kind-hearted host of the famous children’s show, Mr. Rogers’ Neighbourhood. However, others may have never heard of him. I had always known the name but didn’t know a lot about the man behind the show. Now I don’t know why I hadn’t learned more about him sooner. With a critically acclaimed documentary out about Mr. Rogers and a biopic starring Tom Hanks being released, it’s time to look at his significance in today’s world. 


    Fred Rogers was born in Pennsylvania and received a degree in music composition. When he first saw a television set at his parent’s home during his senior year of college, he saw the power that it held. Soon, he was co-producing The Children’s Corner, his introduction into children’s television. He realized he wanted to create something beyond the so-called “pie-throwing” on television that would leave people learning nothing. In the 60s, he finally appeared on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation as Mr. Rogers on the show Misterogers. During this time, he was also ordained as a minister by the Presbyterian Church. By the late 60s, he began his famous show, Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood. 


    Rogers began his show with his familiar theme song, “Won’t You Be My Neighbour?”, zipping up his sweater and putting on his shoes after entering the set for the show, designed like a house. On his show, Rogers dealt with many different and unique topics in a way for children to understand. From race and divorce to disabilities and even violence, Rogers had an effortless way of speaking to children. He even sparked curiosity in children by taking visits to places such as a crayon factory. In his famous red sweater and soft voice, he was able to open the world up for children to learn and think about what was happening around them. He tried to make each of his viewers feel important with his kind, calm manner. Everyone was a neighbour to Rogers. 


    However, Rogers was the same outside of his television persona. Almost every morning of his life, Rogers would wake up at 5:30 in the morning to read, write and pray, followed by his regular swimming routine. Rogers was also a vegetarian and had a great respect for animals. One touching story I read was about when he met Koko the gorilla. Koko was being taught sign language and watched Rogers on television. When he met Koko, Rogers was surprised when Koko hugged him and then took off his shoes, as Rogers does at the beginning of his program. For much of his life, Rogers weighed 143 pounds. Why would he keep his weight at this number? Well, 143 also meant “I love you” to Rogers: “It takes one letter to say 'I' and four letters to say 'love' and three letters to say 'you.' One hundred and forty-three.” To some, this may seem boring, run-of-the mill for a person like Rogers. To me, however, these are the signs of someone living life right. Rogers takes his time each day, living in a way that shows appreciation for others around him. It’s truly admirable to see someone live in a way that appreciates the little things about life. 


    Rogers’ biggest message throughout his life and today is that “you were a child once, too.” We all understand what it’s like to feel lost or scared or out of place. In this way, Rogers wants to speak to all of us, to share a message of kindness, love, and acceptance. Today, we’re living in a world with so much hatred, and it feels like we’re useless when we want to change things. It’s important now more than ever to listen to what Rogers has to tell us about being kind to others and seeing ourselves as special in this world. We’re all a part of the world’s neighbourhood, and we have to keep trying, just as he did, to be a little bit kinder each day, even if it gets difficult. 


    In 1998, writer Tom Junod wrote a profile for Esquire about Rogers, titled, “Can You Say…Hero?”(Which I strongly recommend reading, I do admit to getting a bit emotional). During one of their interviews, Rogers tells Junod, “The connections we make in the course of a life—maybe that's what heaven is, Tom. We make so many connections here on earth. Look at us—I've just met you, but I'm investing in who you are and who you will be, and I can't help it.” To Rogers, heaven is the state we should be living in instead of striving for at the end of life, and I can’t help but read this quotation over and over again. By connecting with others and showing them kindness, we’re shaping each other into the people we’ll become. I think that’s the kind of neighbourhood I want to live in, don’t you?