Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Won't You Be My Neighbor

Love is at the root of everything, all learning, all relationships -- love or the lack of it.  ~Mister Rogers

Yesterday, I went with my parents to see the Won't You Be My Neighbor, the documentary about the great Mister Rogers. It's a film that every single person must see, and not just parents and teachers, but everyone.

I was six-years-old when Mister Roger's Neighborhood, his groundbreaking, radical show, debuted in 1968 with its singular mission to treat children with unwavering respect. We didn't watch much television when I was a boy, if only because there wasn't much on, but this was something special, something for which we made time. Although I suppose his intended audience was preschoolers, I watched regularly until I was eight or nine, and to this day, I'll revisit my old friends upon occasion.

Most of us who grew up with him, knew him as a kind, attentive man who was always happy to see us, told us that he liked us just the way we are, and helped us to think about our big feelings. The film shows us the deep thinking and commitment that went into everything about the program, a show that single-handedly proved that television can be used for good. Indeed, he came to television in large measure because he was appalled at what he saw in this young medium. He once told an interviewer, "I went into television because I hated it so. I though there was some way of using this fabulous instrument to be of nurture to those who would watch and listen."

I learned some new things from the movie, especially from the interviews of his long-time cast and crew members, but most of all I was simply reminded. There was great beauty in how he was able to slow things down in a world that was revving up, to focus on the smallest things, to allow us to ponder in silence. He was a radical, even as he embodied the definition of "square," openly exploring such personal matters as death and divorce as well as the larger societal issues like assassination, civil rights, and war. At bottom, it was a show about love and respect, a show like no other.

It's tempting to think that we need Mister Rogers now more than ever, but watching the movie I was reminded that we've always needed neighbors like him. Won't you be mine?

The greatest gift you ever give is your honest self.  ~Mister Rogers

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