I wanted to take a moment to talk about one of my life influences today. I talk a lot about writers, film, and genre stuff, and how they jump-started me into becoming the person I am today. Before that, though, there was another influence in my life, an influence so great yet so subtle, that I didn’t realize he was teaching me to value myself and be a good human being. He’s gone now, but I think it’s important to touch on great people from time to time, and since today is his birthday, it’s even more timely.
People kind of assume that kids are resilient and don’t pick up on emotional subtleties until adolescence. I don’t know why adults forget that being a kid is hard, but they do. There are a lot of unique pressures on children, plus you’re trying to figure out what you are to the rest of the world and where you fit. I was no exception, but thankfully, like so many others, I had a great neighbor waiting for me everyday when I turned on the TV.
That’s right, I’m talking about Mr. Fred Rogers, not only an advocate for public television and a stand-up teacher for children everywhere, but probably one of the most valuable humans that ever walked the planet. Yes, in some ways he’s been reduced to memes and jokes, but seriously, he was a huge influence on my life. It’s so easy to get caught up in daily drama, but not only was he fantastic about explaining experiences (going to school, how things worked, medical conditions, the right way to treat people), he also reminded children everywhere that they were worthwhile. This is different than entitlement, way different than giving children material objects so they can keep up with the kids around them. This is a genuinely kind person reminding us all that we’re worthwhile just the way we are, that at our core there is something valuable about us that can’t be taken away. I can’t tell you how many times I went back to that show even as a teenager and young adult – sometimes we just need to know that someone is proud of us, that someone is glad we’re around. Not only did he talk to us all as intelligent people, but he showed his lessons in the form of awesome puppets and creatures. Seriously, the guy was responsible for creating whole make-believe places – that definitely had an effect on me as a kid and jump-started my imagination into hyper-drive. Through the land of make believe we got opera, we saw misunderstandings and how to fix them, we learned a lot.
As a person, too, Mr. Rogers practiced what he taught. We’re talking about an ordained minister who chose to talk about treating people well instead of shoving a specific dogma down people’s throats in a public forum. We’re talking about a man who talked logically and calmly to senate when they wanted to cut funding of public television. We’re talking about a man who was family and social values incarnate, who didn’t hold anything against anyone, who strove to make us understand that everyone has something to offer. This is someone that shows us that it really isn’t worth it to fight over who’s right – we should talk calmly and try to understand each other’s viewpoints. We should value everything around us, even our own feelings. We should remember that we’re people worth being proud of, worth liking, worth being here.
For me, personally, he was a Godsend. As a kid I was all kinds of awkward and that lasted up through like my twenties. Life seemed confusing at the best of times, and I’m someone who likes to know how things work and what to do in certain situations. I loved his show for the analytical aspects, but I needed the self-esteem boost, sometimes badly. Not only did the make believe portions reaffirm that it was okay for me to be an imaginative kid, but the whole show got me thinking about what I had to offer. Plus, I was introduced to a lot of great music and simple lyrics by watching that show, and that definitely influenced my love of music as I grew older. As I said before, I’m human enough to admit that I’ve gone back to the show a few times here and there, especially when going through some low parts of my life when I desperately needed to be reminded that I was all right. It may sound childish or silly, but don’t we all need that affirmation? Isn’t that what being human is all about? And if seeing those examples, even as an adult, leads me to be more considerate in my own life, then I’m all for it.
So today I say Happy Birthday to you, Fred Rogers, wherever you may be, and thank you for all the amazing gifts you’ve given us. For the music, for living your beliefs, for your kindness, for your imagination, not only am I thankful, but I’m very, very proud of you. Hopefully your time here hasn’t been in vain, and we just need a little reminder now and again of what it means to be good neighbors to each other. Thank you so much just for being you.
To spread the celebration, I want to share a couple of links – this article at Cracked.com caught my eye, and if you read it, watch the video, and read the comments, I think you’ll see just what an effect Fred Rogers had. Plus, it’s way more eloquent than I am at the moment. You can find that article HERE
And there’s a petition going around to make March 20 officially Mr. Rogers Day. If you feel like jumping on board, you can sign the petition HERE