Fred McFeely Rogers was a shy, somewhat awkward, and sometimes bullied child growing up in the 1930s. After going to college for what he called his “first language”—music—he prepared to enter seminary and study for the ministry. But on a visit home for Easter, he saw television for the first time. He hated it—people on the program were throwing pies in each other’s faces, and Fred found that demeaning. Nonetheless, he sensed instantly television’s capacity for connection and enrichment. That moment changed his life—and the lives of millions of Americans.
Fred Rogers, of course, went on to create Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which aired nationally for over 30 years. Beginning in 1968 and continuing until (and beyond) the end of production in 2001, untold millions of children grew up under Mister Rogers’ steady gaze and faithful care. Those children now make up much of the American public, and now many of them are flocking to theaters to see the documentary of Misters Rogers’ life, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Somehow, over 15 years after his death, we seem unable to stop turning back to Mister Rogers again and again—with a feature film that will begin filming in Pittsburgh this fall, and a biography that will be released in September. It seems we sense that Mister Rogers, whom we used to know so well, who used to seem to know us so well, may have something to say to us in our divided, contentious, often-painful cultural and political climate. Here are some of Mister Rogers’ teachings that could help us weather today’s ups and downs, stand up for what we believe in, and come together across our differences.