What Would Mr. Rogers Do?

The other night, I found myself enjoying the not so random mix list offered by nostalgia and YouTube. When it stumbled upon Mr. Rogers, I clicked. If you weren’t a child in America between 1970 and 2000, Mr. Rogers was a TV host for the children’s show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, and he basically raised us.

Every day after school we met Mr. Rogers in his neighborhood. He walked into his house singing “Please won’t you be, my neighbor?” while chucking his shoes over his shoulder and slipping off his other oppressive outside clothes for a cardigan and sneakers. I was 100% ready to move to wherever he was, which, in fact, was Pittsburgh, and which, in fact, I did.

Mr. Rogers is like a modern day god. He was loving and gentle. He loved everyone, no matter who they were. He taught us to share and he taught us to be nice to one another. He taught us the joys of exploration and curiosity. And he told each of us that we were special and that we all mattered. He wanted nothing more than to be our friend and neighbor and, if you were like me, you wanted nothing more than the same.

In these stressful times, these ideal ideas might fall away or be subject to conditions. Be friends, you say? Sure, as long as you look like me, screw who I want you to screw, and live where I live legally. We surely put similar conditions on love they neighbor, do unto others, and turn the other cheek. It doesn’t work like that, we say. It’s more complex.

Well, maybe. But couldn’t it be the base we work from? Instead of where we work from now, which seems to be – unless you agree with me then you are my enemy. In the video Mr. Rogers was trying to garner funding to children’s television programs. In a famous moment he told the gruff head of the senate committee that he trusted him to read a letter and that he trusted that he would put thought into his decision. Trust a politician!? Laughable. You must be kidding. Yeah, maybe, but it worked and he was successful.

I am not trying to preach folks, and I am certainly not immune to the graying of the black and white ideas such as be nice to each and trust people that life experience pushes us to develop. But if Mr. Rogers’ main ideas were to love each other and be neighborly, our president’s main ideas are the exact opposite. He is a bully who mocks, attacks, and derides people. He seethingly insults those who make the monstrous mistake of disagreeing with him. He’s mean-spirited and promotes violence and dislike. He runs a government on the fuel of spite. And most importantly, he doesn’t want to bring us together like Mr. Rogers did, he wants to tear us apart. And he doesn’t do this because he’s looking out for people, he does it because he’s looking out for him.

Not only is this person a nightmare, but we’re allowing him to dictate how we treat each other. Because regardless of whose “side” you’re on, many of us are taking social cues from this awful person. If you’re for him, then you have convinced yourself that his tactics are manly and tough. They’re not; they’re intensely cowardly. Like most bullies, our president’s machismo is as fragile as a coating of cellophane, and at the core he is a coward. But those of us against him are also taking our personal interactive cues from him.

How? We’re being really mean to one another. Look at any political or social “debate” online and notice how quickly it descends into a bitter squabble rife with attacks and name calling. My two minute peruse on Facebook scares up these gems: You fucking Nazi bitch! Fuck you, libtard snowflake motherfucker! This faggot has sand in his clit (wtf?! This is my questions, by the way). I won’t shut my face hole and if you think your (sic) man enough, come over here and do it for me. You fucking people disgust me.

Really? What would Mr. Rogers say if he heard you interact with another person like that? How disappointed would he be? How many times have you spoken to a person like this to their face? Very rarely…I hope. But on Facebook and Twitter and in the troll-stalked comments sections of articles, it’s business as usual. Come on, folks! Just because we disagree doesn’t mean we have to insult and hurt each other.

The thing is, we didn’t always engage people like this. We weren’t born learning how to shove words down each others’ throats and to not listen to each other. We didn’t learn to viciously attack others in kindergarten and in preschool. And we certainly weren’t taught any of this by Mr. Rogers. And many of the people being so vicious are part of Mr. Rogers’ demographic, we were in his neighborhood.

Perhaps part of the problem is that we’re not really in “neighborhoods” anymore. We sit at our computers and shout at faceless people. Social tension, anonymity, and distance are triplet culprits. So maybe we need to interact more, physically talk to those you agree and disagree with. I hope it would be harder to yell such hatred at a person whose face you could see. Maybe we can tweak Mr. Rogers’ reasoning for being a vegetarian: “I could never eat something that has a mother.” Perhaps before attacking someone, remember they have a mother. It might trick you into remembering that they are a real person with a life, family, friends, interests, a dog. Or maybe it’s just as simple as asking yourself “What would Mr. Rogers Do?” before you get negative with another person. And then do that instead.

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