Is there anyone who doesn’t love the legacy of Fred Rogers? I’ve been a fan for a long time, but becoming a mother and pursuing a writing career has renewed my interest in his work. Here’s why.
1. There is more to life than meets the eye:
“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.”
Fred had real depth. Which — let’s be real — is amazing for anyone on television. And highly unusual for a children’s program. Every parent knows what it’s like to feel burnout over your child’s favorite show. You can’t take another moment!
I doubt many parents have ever suffered burnout over Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood because Fred spoke at such a human level. He didn’t talk down to children. In fact, everything he talked about was so damn relatable, that I have yet to hear him say anything where I thought — “Oh, that really doesn’t apply to me.”
2. Fred knew what people want most — and just how much it matters:
“You know, I think everybody longs to be loved, and longs to know that he or she is lovable. And consequently, the greatest thing we can do is to help somebody know that they are loved and capable of loving.”
I don’t know how most kids grew up because my childhood was not so great. In my family, wanting to be loved and wanting attention at all was a negative thing. It was selfish and needy, particularly as I approached young adulthood.
It seems to me that most adults, even those who had healthy childhoods, can now relate to the idea that certain emotions are supposedly childish. We don’t like to admit that we want love or attention. We’re supposed to be more self-sufficient than that.
Fred Rogers remains a reassuring voice of truth for children and grownups alike. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be loved. In fact, it’s natural and normal! What a relief to anyone feeling like there’s something wrong with them for wanting to be noticed at all.
He knew love was so vital that he went as far as to say we all have a job to help each other love and be loved. Which points not only to a shared responsibility but also to the reality that loving is a learned skill.
3. Real love is different:
“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.”
Parents, lovers, and anyone, really, can easily get caught up in a desire to control their objects of affection. We want them to be their best. We want the best for them. As a result, we often want them to change.
If they would only do this or that… If they could try harder, do better, work smarter… It goes on and on.
But Mister Rogers knew that real love is different. It’s not about control. Even with our own children, we have to be able to let go of control to actively love them as they are right now. Not for anything we hope they might be.
That same definition of love can be applied to any relationship.
4. People have value and deserve to know their worth:
“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.”
Speaking as an introvert, we live in this society where it’s hard to make a positive impression on anyone new if you’re quiet or it simply takes time to warm up to others. Upon meeting someone new, you’ve got about 30 seconds — maybe a minute at best — to prove your worth to that person. We operate in a sales-driven society where people are expected to sell themselves and their value every damn day.
But Fred wasn’t like that. No one had to prove anything to him because, in his mind, they were already worthy. He genuinely loved people and valued them and believed that everyone had something special to offer the rest of the world.
Even today, he inspires the rest of us to see the value in ourselves and others. To bring our gifts out where others can see them and benefit.
5. We will never outgrow our need for reassurance:
“Whether we’re a preschooler or a young teen, a graduating college senior or a retired person, we human beings all want to know that we’re acceptable, that our being alive somehow makes a difference in the lives of others.”
Fred Rogers was clear that everyone has big feelings and insecurities. His attitude made those things perfectly acceptable.
We often grow up thinking that it’s a weakness to ask for reassurance, but Mister Rogers was positive that it’s something everyone needs.
Under this same line of thinking, we all have a place in the grand scheme of things. We can all make an impact. We all matter. And it’s okay if we sometimes need a reminder.
6. There is an inner strength to true love:
“We need to help people to discover the true meaning of love. Love is generally confused with dependence. Those of us who have grown in true love know that we can love only in proportion to our capacity for independence.”
Mister Rogers was right when he said people confuse love with dependence, and he knew that having an inner strength and independence would only enhance one’s ability to love.
I have to admit that lessons like these have been the hardest for me, but I believe them knowing how insecure I grew up and how it made me feel so fearful of abandonment.
How many other kids’ shows ever get so deep?
7. Mister Rogers wanted everyone to reach their full potential:
“The thing I remember best about successful people I’ve met all through the years is their obvious delight in what they’re doing and it seems to have very little to do with worldly success. They just love what they’re doing, and they love it in front of others.”
Fred Rogers had such a healthy view of success. He understood that money and notoriety could only go so far if a person didn’t love what they do. Sure, it might sound trite to say that inner happiness is more important than making money, but I think Fred saw it as a mental health and inner stability issue.
It’s hard to feel good about ourselves if we aren’t proud of anything we do. Having a purpose matters.
8. Grownups don’t need to fear sharing their feelings:
“Love and trust, in the space between what’s said and what’s heard in our life, can make all the difference in the world. ”
There’s a long-standing rumor going around that Fred Rogers served in the military. He did not, and in fact was a true pacifist. I suppose it speaks to the fact that some people wanted to toughen up the image of a gentle man on TV who had no trouble talking about his feelings.
But let’s be real. The fact that Mister Rogers did what he did day in and day out without much worry to what anyone thought about him — that shows what a badass he really was.
No, it’s not popular for men in our society to talk about their feelings or get down on the level of a child and play with them. But Mister Rogers did those things, anyway.
See? No fear. Just pure badassery.
9. We will all know suffering:
“There is no normal life that is free of pain. It’s the very wrestling with our problems that can be the impetus for our growth.”
You know how some people try to write off anything sad or disappointing by saying, “Hey, here’s how it could be good for you?” Yeah, I don’t particularly like those comments either.
So, I find it refreshing that Fred didn’t do that. He never said, “Don’t be sad.” Sure, he acknowledged how pain can help us grow, but unlike most well-meaning advisors, he never put that expectation onto someone who was hurting.
He made it okay to not be okay all of the time.
10. Like Fred, we can meet people right where they are:
“I don’t think anyone can grow unless he’s loved exactly as he is now, appreciated for what he is rather than what he will be.”
When you watch Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and see him interact with others, or when you hear people recount their experiences with him, it’s striking how much he put others at ease.
He was the best kind of cheerleader and encouraging friend because he let people simply feel whatever they felt without coercing or wanting them to change.
But you could see that by the time someone got done speaking to Mister Rogers, they already felt better.
They were heard. And being heard can change everything.
11. Positive mental hygiene matters:
“The world needs a sense of worth, and it will achieve it only by its people feeling that they are worthwhile.”
Okay, so Fred never used the verbiage “positive mental hygiene,” but he still promoted it every single day. Our sense of self-worth is such a huge part of our overall well-being!
I know firsthand how important positive mental hygiene is as someone who has suffered from depression and mental illness half her life.
So I applaud statements like these, along with the way Fred told viewers “You are special.” Some folks find it self-indulgent, but I know that self-worth saves lives and fosters more individuals who are dedicated to making the world a better place.
12. Our mental health and self-esteem are connected:
“Feeling good about ourselves is essential in our being able to love others.”
Apparently, there’s a whole faction of folks who believe that Millennials and Xennials grew up in coddled bubbles where we were told that we never did anything wrong and we were special little snowflakes.
That’s not how I grew up, and I’ve yet to meet anyone else who was raised that way. Sure, I’ve seen permissive parents, but there’s no actual surplus of people who feel superior because they grew up feeling good about themselves.
People frequently overlook the importance of self-esteem. As if it’s simply a given and if you don’t feel good about yourself, there’s an enormous stigma attached to you.
Feeling good about yourself, feeling that your life matters, and believing that you have something important to offer the world? That’s all foundational to your good mental health.
The healthy self-esteem Mister Rogers promoted can’t prevent chemical imbalances in the brain, but it sure can’t make your mental health worse. But negative self-talk and deprecating beliefs? They can and they do.
13. We can be real:
“Life is deep and simple, and what our society gives us is shallow and complicated.”
We live in a world that sometimes really sucks. There’s no way around it. If our kids aren’t careful and if we’re not careful, we’ll end up pursuing the wrong things in life.
As in the shallow, complicated things that never truly feed your soul.
I think Fred knew that we’re all just trying to tap into the simplicity and depth of life. His work spoke directly to that longing which we all feel in some way.
14. People need people:
“Taking care is one way to show your love. Another way is letting people take good care of you when you need it.”
It’s hard to admit it when we need help, right? As adults, it’s even harder to say I can’t do this by myself or that I have an unmet need.
Often, I’m afraid to ask for help. I’m just waiting for someone to call me out and say my problems are all my fault or that I’m getting what I deserve anyway. Sometimes strangers do say those things to me even without my asking for help.
Which means that being vulnerable is hard. It can leave us feeling defenseless. So I appreciate the way Fred taught that letting others help take care of you is actually a part of you showing them love in return.
15. We can accept sadness without fear:
“Confronting our feelings and giving them appropriate expression always takes strength, not weakness. It takes strength to acknowledge our anger, and sometimes more strength yet to curb the aggressive urges anger may bring and to channel them into nonviolent outlets. It takes strength to face our sadness and to grieve and to let our grief and our anger flow in tears when they need to. It takes strength to talk about our feelings and to reach out for help and comfort when we need it.”
This might be my favorite thing about Fred Rogers. As someone pretty prone to melancholy, I have spent a lot of time in the world feeling like a fish out of water.
It’s such a simple thing… but having a healthy, successful adult treat sadness like a normal part of life that you don’t need to apologize for? That’s huge.
Feeling blue was okay, because Fred saw the big picture, and he encouraged the rest of us to see it too.
But if we still felt sad? That was perfectly alright. We could sing a sad, sad song.
Ultimately, we could be honest and we could be ourselves.