If you don’t yet know what all of the fuss is over, stop what you are doing right now and go see the movie, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
The film is not riveting. Yet, it is COMPLETELY riveting.
Whether you were a fan of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as a child or not, Fred Rogers embodied three values that I hold dear as an educator, a parent, and a member of the human species…
Value 1: Talk to children with the same respect you’d give to fellow adults.
I’ve been plotting my role in the adult world since I was a little kid, ever-annoyed by condescending tones from adults. I always resented being treated like I was “little.”
From the youngest age, I observed how belittling the majority of the world is to children. “When I grow up, I will NOT talk to children like that.” I wanted to be a teacher from the time I was a three year-old in Montessori, so I could do something about the condescension. I can thank Montessori and my parents for bestowing “respect of the child” upon me.
Value 2: Feelings need to be named, discussed, and validated.
In my Laboratory of Life as a parent, I have consistently observed the power of naming and validating feelings. (In fact, this topic has been brewing in my brain as a future book because it is so powerful for all human interactions, not just for children.)
When our children are upset, my husband calls on me as the resident “Child Whisperer.” But, as I’ve told him many times, it’s not a secret superpower.
The key is simply to acknowledge their feelings and let them know it’s okay to feel that way. Sometimes, that process produces more tears before the sadness passes. But, those are always “productive tears.” Ultimately, the process neutralizes the situation so that it can be effectively managed.
Value 3: As a Divine creation, every person is inherently valuable… and deserving of love.
You can probably recognize my Christian values here. By this, I don’t mean “guilt-ridden Christian” or “judgemental Christian,” as some theologies are keen to promote. I mean, “Made in God’s Image” Christian.
By virtue of our existence, each and every one of us has value, a purpose, and is worthy of being loved. This was Mr. Rogers’ core belief. It fueled everything he did. And I happen to fully agree with him.
Some people confuse this message with a term called “self-esteem.” I had several classes in high school that “taught” the notion of self-esteem.
However, even in my Christian high school, the implication was that self-esteem was something we are responsible for manufacturing. You know, Stuart Smalley-style… “I’m good enough… smart enough… and gosh-darn it, people like me!” …as if we had to beat ourselves over the head with Affirmation Sticks to develop self-esteem.
There’s nothing wrong with self-esteem or self-affirmations.
But, Mr. Rogers’ message was much more authentic… by virtue of being created by God, you are Good. “It’s right here. All you have to do is receive it.”
So simple. Yet, just by mumbling the words, “self-esteem,” we’ve already over-complicated it.
This is not a message of “entitlement.” Entitlement grows out of a lack of self-worth. Instead, an authentic belief in self-worth is the most genuine motivator!
Mr. Rogers Will Make You a Better Person
My friend, who is a serious film critic, messaged me last week. “The best movie I’ve seen this year is a documentary about Fred Rogers. Mr. Rogers wasn’t even my favorite kids’ show, but we spent most of the movie discreetly wiping tears from our eyes.”
The timing of his message was uncanny… I was driving home from seeing the movie, myself. Felt the same way about it.
Came home and told my family, “This weekend, instead of asking you to go to church with me, I’m asking you to see this movie with me.”
And now, my 14 year-old son is organizing plans to see it with his friends.
Why Is a Film About Mr. Rogers So Powerful?
When I was in high school, my saint of a mother (who never, ever said anything unkind about another person) made an observation about one of my teachers.
“What is it about Mr. Edwards?” she wondered. “He seems so gumpy. Yet, I see him at basketball games and all of the students love him!” To know my mother is to know that her question was out of genuine admiration, rather than judgement. And it was a poignant observation! She prompted me to think about it for a long, long time.
Finally, I realized why it was that all of the students loved Mr. Edwards… it was because we knew that he loved us!
And so it is with the movie, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? It is so powerful because you can feel Fred Rogers loving you… right through the boundaries of place and time. His spirit lives on… and it loves you… just the way you are.
To our students’ success,
Susan Kruger, M.Ed.
SOAR Author & Founder
P.S. Many thanks to the people who made this movie; it is very well done. When I said it’s “not riveting” above… well, you know what I meant. Thank you for this very powerful message!