Won’t You Be My Neighbor


Annie was so kind to take me to see a documentary last night called Mister Rogers and Me. The premise was about these two filmmakers, Chris and Ben Wagner, who actually were neighbors with Fred Rogers, the “Won’t you be my neighbor” man himself. What the filmmakers wanted the world to know is that the person on camera was the same person off camera.

The film could have been a quick look through the life of the man’s career on and off the 40-year run show, but instead was an 80-minute life lesson that I hope to take with me as I go through my own life.  Here are the lessons that stuck with me the most and that I want to share with you:


1. TV can be a congregation

Nothing is good and nothing is bad in itself. It’s how we choose to use it. While Mister Rogers was a religious man, attending church once a week wearing his brown cardigan sweater, he once said that TV is his church. It’s a reminder that we can do good anywhere – in our homes, in our job, in traffic. It’s how we choose to use it.


2. Speak slower. And don’t judge.

Mister Rogers had this way of speaking really slowly and looking right into the camera, as if he is speaking directly to you making sure you hang on to his every word. Every episode he would say, “I like you just the way you are.” When was the last time someone said that? How much better off would we be if we heard it more often? When filmmaker Ben Wagner hesitantly told Fred Rogers that he works at MTV, the antithesis of the PBS show, Fred listened and simply said, “Deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex.” It’s a lesson that might not stick with the MTV ratings committee, but it had stuck with Ben who is promoting the message through this film.


3. Life is made up of every moment

When we talk about our life, we often define it by five or six big moments. The late Tim Russert, who was also a neighbor of Fred Rogers, said when Fred met his son he didn’t waste a second to teach him something. Instead of conversing with the adults like everyone else, Fred drew a clock in the sand and taught Russert’s son how to tell time. It was a lesson to Tim to take advantage of every moment. To learn something and teach something whenever the opportunity presents itself. All of those little moments define the person we become today.


4. Get used to silence

When Mister Rogers received an Emmy, he thanked everyone present, not present and in heaven, who made him the person he is to have received such an award. He then asked for 10 seconds of silence for everyone watching to think of the people who made us who we are today.  In a time when everyone is frazzled and confused about who they are, it might not be a bad idea to do as Fred and remind ourselves of all the people responsible for forming us.


5. Don’t be afraid to tackle difficult issues

It seems that our culture teaches us that instead of building up a strong immunity or learning how to deal with hardship, we should instead run away from it and drown ourselves in medications to forget. Mister Rogers tackled issues such as divorce, assassinations and disabilities, on his show because he knew that communication and honesty is the only thing that can get us through difficulties in life. He understood this is even more true for children. Instead of running away from what we don’t want to face, we will do far better in life if we talk it out.


6. Listen

Whether it’s because we are too scared to look people in the eye, are distracted by our thoughts or the people around us, or just HAVE to check our cell phone while the other person is speaking, I learned from watching the film that giving people our sole attention might be the best service we ever do in this world. That feeling that we are heard and paid attention to, that we are interesting, significant, important, is at the core of the human condition, and if we could do that for people once in a while, it would go a long way. This includes the bus driver, the bank teller and the Starbucks barista. The last words I ever want to say to anyone again are “‘I’m busy.” We all have time to listen to someone.


To watch the trailer, visit www.misterrogersandme.com.