Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers in the new movie, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, photo by Sony

Mr. Rogers, For Grownups

A new movie points to lessons for adults

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood Trailer

My husband grew up in the Pittsburgh area and imbibed Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood on Pittsburgh television almost as much as Heinz ketchup. I became intrigued as an adult with Mr. Rogers’ burning compassion for children. I have that inner fire too.

So we went to the film, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, about Mr. Rogers. Though the television “neighborhood” centers on respecting children, this movie is not for children. But it brings the same sensibilities to adults and their relationships. Inspired by an Esquire journalist who interviewed and wrote about Mr. Rogers for Esquire Magazine in 1998, it covers aspects of their budding friendship (with added on fictional features).

As we sat there, I realized that no one is too old for the lessons of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. We all need reminding. These are the lessons I took from the movie:

  • Everyone is unique and precious.
  • Everything human is worth mentioning.
  • Everything mentionable is manageable.
  • Feelings come and go, but what matters is what you do with them.

The journalist, Tom Junod, just wrote another piece about Mr. Rogers and mentioned several other experiences that lengthened my list of lessons from Mr. Rogers for us today. Some quotes:

“I had gone to my alma mater, SUNY Albany, which had been rechristened the University at Albany, for a showing of Won’t You Be My Neighbor? I was watching the movie for the third time, and toward the end Fred said something in a late-in-life interview I somehow hadn’t heard before—that “the real job that we have” was to “make goodness attractive in the so-called next millennium.”

“Fred was a man with a vision, and his vision was of the public square, a place full of strangers, transformed by love and kindness into something like a neighborhood. That vision depended on civility, on strangers feeling welcome in the public square, and so civility couldn’t be debatable. It couldn’t be subject to politics but rather had to be the very basis of politics, along with everything else worthwhile.”

Although Junod is pessimistic about the lasting influence of Mr. Rogers because of the power of social media to undermine civility and fracture solidarity, research is showing that Mr. Rogers was right: We can be civil and kind but we must work at it, as he did, day in and day out.

William James (1983) emphasized that attention as a key aspect of the will. We can choose to attend to one thing or another. Mr. Rogers helps us realize that attention to the goodness in one another can be and should be our focus so we can build and maintain a civil, functioning society.

These are the lasting messages from Mr. Rogers’ life:

  • Civil life relies on seeing the goodness in others.
  • You must work at presence, kindness and seeing that goodness.

Not just for kids.

References

James, W. (1983). The Principles of Psychology, Volumes I and II. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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