Mister Rogers' Neighborhood was one of my favorite television shows as a child. Mr. Rogers and the peaceful, love-focused values he advocates are so beautiful and idealistic. He's continued to inspire me even after his death—the documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor is the reason I'm applying to grad school to study children's literature.
Mr. Rogers' powerful influence was his ability to portray complex and difficult ideals (that many adults still struggle with) in a way that resonates with people of all ages.
Here are 13 of the ways in which he touched our world.
1. Just the way you are.
We cannot truly love and extend grace toward others unless we love and extend grace toward ourselves. An integral part of the struggle to find our personal identity comes in finding meaning in being our own self. This also goes hand-in-hand with--simply--liking our own selves, and accepting ourselves just the way we are.
Here, Mr. Rogers affirms that we are different, and each of us being unique is part of what makes us beautiful: and that we can be loved just where we're at, precisely because we are different.
Part of the way we can view ourselves as meaningful is seeing the ways we can contribute to our world, which plays into our individual gifts. Being comparative creatures, we see these as the ways we are different than other humans, but we too often tear ourselves down for our differences. Mr. Rogers sets us straight: we all inherently bear something unique, and we can be loved just the way we are.
2. You don't have to do...
When we don't fully accept ourselves, it can be easy for us to falsely believe that we have to do grand sweeping gestures or be something brilliant in order to be accepted or loved. Mr. Rogers reinforces his profound belief that we can all be loved exactly where we're at, without having to change ourselves for other people.
When you struggle to accept this, think of people in your life whom you love. Did they have to do sensational things in order for you to love them? Most likely, not. In the same way, you too can be loved by others without having to do sensational things.
3. How important you are to the lives of those you meet
It is a universal human drive to find meaning in our lives, and most of us find that meaning in how we relate to other people: whether or not we're making a difference to someone. Sometimes we struggle, though, in believing we are actually making a difference. Mr. Rogers gently tells us we might not know we're making a difference; but that doesn't necessarily mean we're not.
Think of times when a stranger left a positive imprint in your life: the street musician who played your current favorite song; the author or movie director who left you in tears over a story; the person who waited to hold the door open for you when you were having a bad day. We've all heard stories of someone feeling actively suicidal, and then the warm smile or hug of a stranger changing their mind. That person who smiled may never know they literally saved someone's life, but whether they're aware or not, the difference they've made remains.
So too, we impact every person we run across; and whether or not we ever know how important we've been doesn't change that we have impacted the lives of people in ways we will never know.
4. You're the only you.
Mr. Rogers' gentle logic is unassailable. Even little children grasp this. Each of us bring something different to this world, and no one else could replace us.
5. When you're at the end.
No matter how kind we are and how kind people are to us (and we won't always be kind to ourselves and people won't always be kind to us), accepting that bad things happen to even good people is one of the hardest lessons of life. Mr. Rogers offers a hopeful way to see even the bad things.
6. "It's not so much what we have..."
There will always be people who have greater advantages than we have. If we sit around and mope about how life isn't fair, we'll waste what we do have--as well as ignore the Princess Bride's pert wisdom. Instead of playing the victim and feeling sorry for ourselves, Mr. Rogers tells us we can make a difference with whatever it is we have, however small that may be.
7. To accept someone precisely for who they are.
As Mr. Rogers taught us to love ourselves, he also opened our eyes in how to truly care for other people. This is one of the most beautiful definitions of love I've ever seen. If I love you, I accept you for precisely who you are--and for precisely who you are not. No judgements, no comparisons, no wishing you were different. Just love.
8. To love and be loved.
Our greatest desires are simply this: to love and be loved. If someone isn't being loving toward others, they're not acting in true alignment with themselves. I think of this quote often when I am interacting with children who are acting out or hurting others. It is important to help someone feel loved, yes. And it is also important to help them, in turn, reach outside of themselves and love others.
10. I hope you're proud of yourself.
It's important to acknowledge ourselves when we're kind to others--when we do a hard thing out of love for a fellow human. It's not important to post it on Facebook or brag about it to ten friends, but it is important to be grateful and proud of the times when we overcome selfishness or fear and live out of love and courage.
11. We're helping to make our world safe.
This is true for anyone who has a child in their life. This is also remarkably true for adults. So many still don't know how to deal with their feelings in ways that don't hurt them or others. If we help everyone find healthy ways to deal with difficult feelings, we'll make the sort of world Mr. Rogers believed in.
12. Look for the helpers.
Mr. Rogers showed us how to see ourselves, others, and our world. Things often seem grim and dark these days. But there are always people who want to help. Maybe we can even be those people.
13. "Not my community, not my problem."
There's a story about a boy who was walking along a beach littered with starfish after a storm, bending and picking them up, one by one, and throwing them back into the sea. An old man saw him and said, "Why are you trying to save them? There are thousands and thousands upon this beach! You won't be able to save them all. You won't make much of a difference." The boy picked up one more starfish, threw it into the ocean, and replied, "It made a difference to that one."
Here's to those of you who are picking up your surrounding starfish and tossing them, one by one, back into the sea.