Mr. Rogers On Love, Acceptance, and Overcoming Despair

Fred Rogers created 900 episodes during the thirty years his show, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, was on the air. He wrote the story, the dialog, and the songs to every single episode. He was a man on a mission. It is a fair statement to say that this man had a personal ministry: to let each child know that “I like you just the way you are,” and to let each child know that “you are special.” His book, You Are Special: Words of Wisdom for All Ages from a Beloved Neighbor is a compilation of his songs, newspaper columns, speeches, books, and his television program.

He writes, “I care deeply about communication, about words—what we say and what we hear. While our television communication might look simple to some, it really isn’t. Children are not simple, and neither are adults. I’ve always given a great deal of thought to how I present ideas during our television visits and I’m always fascinated to hear how people have used what we have said. Often they’ve used our ideas in creative, productive ways I had never dreamed they could be used. So may it be with the words in this book. Once you’ve read them and made them your own, may they find a place in the innermost part of you—in that essential part of you that inspires you to be who you really are.”

There is so much beautiful wisdom in this book, wisdom which can enrich anyone’s life, but which will be an especially soothing balm to the abraded psyche of the dyslexic child and his or her parents. Rogers wrestled with perfectionism, despair, painful emotions, and doubts about his abilities to do work that would make a real difference for people. The lessons he learned as he worked through these issues uplift and inspire. And happily for us, he shares freely and with a generous and open heart. Enjoy!

Ever wondered what your job in life is? I know I have. Rogers shed his light on this universal issue. “As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has—or ever will have—something inside us that is unique to all time. It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression.” To encourage means to “GIVE someone courage,” to inspire hope, courage, and confidence within a person. What a beautiful mission for each parent to embrace as they dialog with and interact with their child daily. But Fred Rogers points out an all-important prerequisite. “When we love a person, we accept him or her exactly as is: the lovely with the unlovely, the strong along with the fearful, the true mixed with the facade, and of course, the only way we can do it is by accepting ourselves that way.” How’s your perfectly imperfect self-acceptance these days? I invite you to drop into the safety and warmth of your own embrace. Safety and love are your birthright, and they come from within the self first.

When Rogers stated that “there is no normal life that is free of pain. It’s the very wrestling with our problems that can be the impetus for our growth,” I couldn’t help thinking about what an asset this point of view is for the dyslexic. The obstacle is the way. Looking at dyslexia through this lens dignifies our struggle and suffering, don’t you think? What would change in your child’s life if he could be helped to believe this about his own struggle?

The value of being a living example to our children is discussed in the chapter on discipline. Rogers writes, “that chores have to be done before play; that patient persistence is often the only road to mastery; that anger can be expressed though words and nondestructive activities; that promises are intended to be kept; that cleanliness and good eating habits are aspects of self-esteem; that compassion is an attribute to be prized—all these are lessons children can learn far more readily through the living example of their parents than they ever can through formal instruction.” His description of discipline is nothing short of mind-blowing: “Discipline is the gift of responsible love.” As someone who grew up with autocratic, draconian rules and little warmth, this definition made my heart swell with warm feelings of gratitude.

The chapter on creativity and play delved into his struggles with perfectionism and self-doubt. He writes, “I’ve often hesitated in beginning a project because I’ve thought, ‘It’ll never turn out to be even remotely like the good idea I have as I start.’ I could just feel how good it could be. But I decided that, for the present, I would create the best way I know how and accept the ambiguities.” It’s difficult to imagine warm, fuzzy, Mr. Rogers all wrapped in his cuddly sweater saying the following words, but say them he did. In a memo he typed, (referred to in his documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?) he wrote, “Am I kidding myself that I’m able to write a script again? Am I really just whistling Dixie? I wonder. If I don’t get down to it I’ll never really know. Why can’t I trust myself? Really that’s what it’s all about…that and not wanting to go through the agony of creation. AFTER ALL THESE YEARS IT’S JUST AS BAD AS EVER. I wonder if every creative artist goes through the tortures of the damned trying to create? Oh well, the hour cometh and now IS when I’ve got to do it. GET TO IT, FRED. GET TO IT….But don’t let anybody ever tell anybody else that it was easy. It wasn’t.” What a beautiful example of the way each of us has the ability to move through our despair or other barriers and create something meaningful. And what a beautiful attribute to model for our children! With my own dyslexia, which is just as bad as ever, as it will always be for every dyslexic, these words resonated with quiet strength. How can we help the next generation of dyslexics learn to just “get to it”? Model it for them. Rogers states, “Strengthen the parent, and you strengthen the child.” Kinda sounds like the purpose of all my blogs!

Regarding education, Fred Rogers comments that “as far as I’m concerned, this is the essence of education: to facilitate a person’s learning, to help that person become more in tune with his or her own resources so that he or she can use whatever is offered more fully.” This statement goes beautifully with one he has framed on his wall, “The greatest gift one can give to another is a deeper understanding of life and their ability to love and believe in the self.” His grasp of the main impediment to that belief in self is succinctly put with these words, “I’d like to be able to let children know that they are not alone with their feelings—that there are other people and other children who have those kinds of feelings…the same fears and the same joys—to let them know there is an adult who cares.”

Amen. May we all be a safe place in the storm of life to the struggling readers in our lives.

Link to book:

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