Mister Rogers Kindness deep and Simple

Mister Rogers: Kindness – Deep & Simple

Do you recognize this living room?  This is the set for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the iconic children’s television show on air in America for over 30 years.   For me, the picture evokes a feeling of nostalgia – calm, pleasant memories from my childhood.  In his cozy sweaters and with his slow, steady voice, Mister Rogers taught us valuable lessons for life through catchy songs and cute puppets.  Even though you may not recognize him because you didn’t grow up in America or it was on TV before your time, keep reading.   His lessons are timeless and essential – now more than ever.  Mister Rogers was a beacon of kindness – deep and simple.

Mister Rogers kindness
Mister Rogers as I remember him. Photo credit: misterrogers.org

My Deep Dive

The 2019 movie, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Tom Hanks sparked my interest in Mister Rogers, portraying him exactly as I remember him, an example of goodness.  Jaded by the multitude of “fallen stars,” I was curious if it was possible that Mister Rogers’ wholesome reputation could remain intact. 

As I learned in my year of discovery, following up on curiosity can be quite rewarding.  So, I decided to do a deep dive into Mister Rogers’ life.  I read articles, interviews and books and was pleasantly surprised to find consistent, positive information on how Fred Rogers did his best to put his TV lessons to work in his daily life.

Throughout the course of his life, he wore many hats: composer, musician, puppeteer, writer, producer, husband, father and even minister.  But, as Fred Rogers said himself, “That’s what I am the most: a man who cares deeply about children.”

A Carefully Crafted Message

What has impressed me most about Fred Rogers was his commitment to delivering quality television content for children.  Every episode was carefully scripted, with great consideration of how it would affect viewers.  He regularly consulted with renowned child psychologist, Dr. Margaret McFarland, who also served as his mentor as he went through the child development graduate program at the University of Pittsburgh.

Joanne Rogers, Mister Rogers’ wife, explained that Dr. McFarland had a profound impact on Rogers’ life, “She let him know it was okay to be sensitive, and helped him find the courage to be himself with children—and with the rest of the world.”

There was a reason behind every move on the show, and it was always striving to be in the best interest of the viewer.  Many of us remember his ritual of arriving home and immediately changing into his sweater and house shoes.  The comforting routine serves as an example of how to leave the worries of the outside world behind.  The slow, deliberate cadence of his voice was calming and easily understood, making the language accessible for all ages as well as helping those with English as their second language.

You won’t implement these philosophies the same way he did, because you are a different person, but if you follow his example, you will find yourself becoming a better version of yourself, living a life that has more meaning.  And the foundation for all of it is “Be deep and simple.”

– Gavin Edwards

But this post is not meant to be a history of Mister Rogers’ life or his television show.  He wouldn’t want that.  He worked tirelessly to deliver a message of kindness, with themes that were consistent in his scripts and life.  And I think we can all learn from them.

Life Lessons from Mister Rogers

1. “People love honesty.”

Rogers was asked why he thought his show was able to stay on the air for so many years to which he replied, “People love honesty.  They like to be in touch with those who are honest and real.”  Rogers conveyed honesty by showing viewers the set and the workers behind it.  They also often included takes of the show when mistakes were made or simply didn’t work out as planned.  There was also a clear definition between the “real” world, where he lived, and the “Neighborhood of Make-Believe,” where puppets talked and Santa Claus visited.

Mister Rogers Neighborhood of Make Believe
Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood of Make-Believe Photo credit: misterrogers.org

Mister Rogers also felt it was important to be honest on all matters, even those that could be difficult.  Children often pose challenging questions, and befuddled adults are not always forthcoming.  In a famous episode, Rogers addresses death by talking about the death of a pet with honesty and sensitivity.

2. “What’s inside is far more important than what’s on the outside.”

One of Rogers’ favorite quotes is from Antoine De Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince, “Ce qui est essential est invisible pour les yeux.” “What is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Rogers had an immense capacity to understand others and show empathy, taking into consideration their individual story, their journey.  He translated that to television with this consistent message:

“We’ve got to have more of this neighborhood expression of care, every day, to each child.  To help him realize that he is unique.  I end the program by saying,” “You’ve made this day a special day, by just being you.  There’s no person in the whole world like you.  And I like you just the way you are.”

3. “Attitudes are caught not taught.”

Rogers is often attributed to the quote, “attitudes are caught not taught.” But in his book, The Giving Box, he refers to it as an “old Quaker saying.”  Regardless, the short, catchy phrase is simple…and deep.  It’s sobering to reflect on how our enthusiasm…and negativity… are soaked up by those surrounding us.

4. “Feelings are mentionable and manageable.”

Fred Rogers was ahead of his time.  He created an environment that placed great importance on the expression of feelings and emotion before it was a societal norm.  Rogers taught viewers that it was normal and healthy to feel emotions. He tried to give them ways to express tough emotions, like anger and sadness, in constructive ways.   

Rogers, a major proponent of public television, testified before the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee in 1969 to speak to the importance of continuing funding for television: “And I feel that if we in public television can only make it clear that feelings are mentionable and manageable, we will have done a great service for mental health.”

5. “Treat your neighbor at least as well as you treat yourself.”

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’s theme song is well-known by all who grew up with the show.  “It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood…won’t you be my neighbor?”  The iconic tune is much like its creator: uplifting and inclusive.  Obviously, Fred Rogers didn’t come up with this lesson on his own, but he did his best to live it out, even when it wasn’t easy. 

I think an excerpt from Rogers’ book, The World According to Mister Rogers, is the perfect closing thought:

Imagine what our real neighborhoods would be like if each of us offered, as a matter of course, just one kind word to another person…Sometimes all it takes is one kind word to nourish another person.  Think of the ripple effect that can be created when we nourish someone.  One kind empathetic word has a wonderful way of turning into many.

Did you know?

You can watch Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood FREE on the site: misterrogers.org.  Whether it’s for your kids, your own memories or you want to learn English – it’s terrific watching.


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