Mind Matters — Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood Revisited

In this new year of 2018, I unearthed a treasure from the last century. That is, watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood once again. Over thirty-five years ago, my children would sit in rapt attention to Mr. Rogers soothing songs, now it is my granddaughter who carries on the tradition.

I remember looking forward every day to Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood which aired in the evening before dinner, just around the time when the day was unraveling and mother and kids needed some calming. Then Mr. Rogers would appear, changing his shoes and putting on his sweater, all the while soothing us with his voice, caressing us gently with kind eyes.

Don’t mistake Mr. Rogers’ kindness and gentleness for weakness. This was not a saccharin, superficial, or sentimental show. Instead, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood dealt with difficult feelings, problem-solving, conflict, the reality of work, and the delight of play. It presented wonder in music and art, and celebrated the diversity of people. Not only did Mr. Rogers have a background in child development, he was also an ordained Presbyterian minister. He wedded these professions together and created his own special ministry dedicated to the well-being of children.

However, his message is as applicable to adults as it is to children. The lyrics of his songs may be simple, but that makes them all the more powerful. You want to learn how to be an emotionally intelligent human being who has compassion and empathy? You want to respect yourself and others? You want to express your feelings? You want to listen to your own voice inside you? Then listen to Mr. Rogers!

The lyrics of “What Do You Do with the Mad That You Feel?” asks “What do you do … when you feel so mad you could bite? When the whole wide world seems, oh, so wrong, and nothing you do seems right?” The song suggests safe solutions—“Punch a bag, pound some clay, or some dough … .” That is, the song encourages emotional regulation—learning how “to stop when you’ve planned a thing that’s wrong.”

In Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, it is okay to have sad or angry feelings and to express those feelings truthfully, as well as safely.

The song, “The Truth Will Make Me Free” encapsulates for all of us, no matter our age, how we need to recognize our feelings and speak our truth:

“What if I were very, very sad
And all I did was smile?
I wonder after a while
What might become of my sadness?

What if I were very, very angry,
And all I did was sit
And never think about it?
What might become of my anger?

Where would they go, and what would they do
If I couldn't let them out?
Maybe I'd fall, maybe get sick
Or doubt.

But what if I could know the truth
And say just how I feel?
I think I'd learn a lot that's real
About freedom.

I'm learning to sing a sad song when I'm sad.
I'm learning to say I'm angry when I'm very mad.
I'm learning to shout,
I'm getting it out,
I'm happy, learning
Exactly how I feel inside of me
I'm learning to know the truth
I'm learning to tell the truth
Discovering truth will make me free.”

The quiet wisdom in Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood is a powerful antidote to the noise of our time.

Quoting Mr. Rogers yet again, “What do you think is important? … What kind of world would you like to live in? … What kind of love would you like to give?”