On Being a Good Neighbor – Now and in the New Year

The timeless lessons of Mister Rogers are highly relevant to today's times.

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A pioneer in the field of children’s TV programming Mister Rogers’ priority was understanding and helping others

I was a Captain Kangaroo follower who never visited Mister Roger’s neighborhood. I now regret that I missed out on the programs and characters created by this kind gentleman who so often put the needs of others before his own.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood – the movie – very appropriately starring Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers, is, delightfully, based upon a true story. It’s the tale of a writer for Esquire magazine who was the recipient of Fred’s generous interest in and desire to assist others in achieving peace and understanding. Both children and adults in need of inspiration received similar encouragement from encounters with this special man.

 The book, The Good Neighbor, a non-fiction guide to the life of the TV icon, includes comments by this Esquire writer. The comments offer proof of the truth of the movie’s theme, though the usual touch of artistic license may have entered into the development of some script details.

The biography includes a myriad of facts regarding the life of the television pioneer who understood human psychology and who maintained authenticity in all aspects of his personal and professional  experiences. Fred stood for respect, above all else. He offered kindness and understanding to people of all ages and races. He displayed, on a regular basis, so many virtues many of us fail to uphold during these stressful, pandemic and politically dominated, daunting days of the twenty-first century.

Fred’s wife does stress that the real life Mister Rogers was not always the perfect person many faithful viewers believed. The slim, gentle man suffered from personal weaknesses and succumbed to anger just as we all do. But he constantly strived to manage the emotions each of us experiences as a human. One of his most prominent career missions was to help children learn creative ways to control their angry feelings, along with many other lessons, through the artistry of puppetry, a cast of unique characters, and highly original, sometimes a bit surprising, programming.

The message for us as 2021 begins

We have never needed the messages of Mister Rogers more. The past few years, 2020 in particular, have been the most divisive, in America, in the memory of most of us. If only we could all see each other through the understanding eyes of Fred Rogers.

It is, admittedly difficult these days to grasp the basis behind the views of those whose opinions contradict our own on so many issues.

But we must remember to see our neighbors, across the street and on the other side of the world, for their positive qualities. To befriend them, when possible to assist them; at minimum to display peace toward them. To separate the person from the opinion we find upsetting.

It’s very sad that in many present settings we cannot peaceably discuss topics of greatest importance to all of us. There is a hint, however, that change may be on the horizon. There seems a softening of tensions as the year’s end approaches.

Perhaps the trials of 2020 may fade as the new year progresses.  Could it be possible that more of our neighbors will begin to remember our interconnectedness? Will more of us join together to support causes benefitting everyone in our local and global communities?

There is no easy and perfect solution to the problems we face, but discussion and compromise brings to light the best options.

The future depends upon the choices each one of us makes. Let’s observe others as individuals with feelings, not as billboards for ideas we find upsetting. Rather than harboring grudges let’s focus on cultivating understanding and compassion in the manner of Mister Rogers.

-May peace, good health and fairness reign in 2021.   

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