Turning on the TV, I looked for something age appropriate, educational, and fun for Michelle, my two-year-old daughter. It was 1983, and I needed a distraction so I could tend to my second child, Michelle’s baby sister Jenni. Up to that point, Michelle had never watched this form of entertainment and, not familiar with any children’s programing myself, I began channel surfing. Soon, I came upon a soft-spoken man with puppets and a message about being a neighbor and how we’re all perfect just the way we are.
But before I knew it, the half hour was over, and I still needed time (dirty diapers shouldn’t wait). So, I let her watch the next show—Sesame Street. Contrary to Mr. Rogers, it was filled with oversized, fascinating creatures, such as Big Bird, and Ernie and Bert. Mesmerized myself, I quickly abandoned the diaper duty, and the three of us sat with eyes locked on the screen. Suddenly, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood felt so 1960s. If I found him boring, I was sure my kids would too, so over the years I rarely turned it on unless I was desperate for a babysitter.
Fast forward to today, and I hear about a new movie out about this TV pioneer’s life, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. It’s the story of a journalist who wants to uncover Fred as something different than he portrays. After all, who could ever be that nice? I’ve yet to see the movie, but I decided to do research on the man behind the sweater and sneakers to find out what the fuss was all about. Remember, I thought he was a dud, so why would anyone want to make a movie about him? But as I Googled, I instantly wished I’d watched more of him back in the day. His daily message of love and acceptance for all children might have helped me become a better mother and person.
Fred Rogers was ahead of his time in the 1960s, recognizing children excel when led with love and understanding, not fear and punishment. He also understood that as human beings we have an innate longing to be loved and to know we’re lovable, especially children. One might respond to such a message with “Duh, everyone knows that.” We think we’ve evolved since those days of children being seen but not heard, but have we really? If we acted in accordance with what we say we know, then maybe we’d be more aware of how we view and treat those little ones who make us uncomfortable or irritated. And, yes, kids, like adults, can makes us feel uneasy and upset.
Perhaps we’d be kinder to those with obvious physical disabilities by looking them in the eye and smiling at them as we pass by, acknowledging their presence. Too often I know I’ve looked the other way because I felt guilty my kids were saved from that journey.
Rather than pass judgment that the toddler screaming in the grocery store is just a bratty kid with a mom who has no control, we should stop and pray instead for a little patience.
And as for the “obnoxious” ones who constantly annoy us with questions, tattling, or tears, we have to remember—this behavior comes from a lack of tools yet to be developed to navigate through their often-complicated world.
Along with these lessons in unconditional love, Mr. Rogers opened each show with the concept of being a good neighbor, a message I feel has become lost in this fast-paced Silicon Valley world of technology.
Before selling our family home in 2017, I lived on a street where everyone knew each other by name. It was friendly, and it felt safe—so safe I never locked my doors. Today, I live in a beautiful 1,500-person apartment complex, and I’ve never felt so alone as people walk past, heads low and eyes glued on their mobile device. Even when I jump in front of them to be noticed, they just walk around me. If I didn’t know better, I’d think I’d become invisible. So what’s this woman to do to create change? Perhaps take a page right out of Mr. Rogers’ playbook and search for a kinder way of living.
Kindness is a funny thing. It’s simple, it costs no money, and yet it is immensely powerful. I know I can’t do anything about another’s behavior, but I can about my own. And since we’re entering a new decade, what better time to make a change in me.
Going forward, I’ll strive to live awake and aware of my surroundings by acknowledging the people I pass, if with nothing more than with a nod. As for that cruel thing we all do—judgement—I plan to work on forgiveness before criticism. That annoying or inconsiderate person could have any number of challenges in their life. Perhaps as a child they never gained the necessary tools to cope with life. And as for my living situation—here I’ve decided to be bold! I may get shunned or receive odd looks as I say, “Hello, have a nice day,” while interrupting someone’s high-tech moment, but I don’t care. I want to get back to the days of connection when life was lovely in my neighborhood, even if I’m the only one doing the connecting. I have hope that if I demonstrate neighborly kindness it’ll spark others to do the same.
Are there changes you want to make in your life? I’d love to hear about them.