Radical kindness

Last week, the excellent documentary called “Would you be my neighbor?” on the life and mission of Mister (Fred) Rogers, won an award from AARP’s Movies for Grown-ups annual ceremony. Morgan Neville, the producer/ director summed up his reflections of Mister Rogers with the words “radical kindness.” He noted we need his wisdom more today than ever.

In the film, Rogers, who was an ordained minister, puppeteer, and musician made it his mission to teach children about how to understand and address their feelings. His shows focused on issues that were previously avoided with children – anger, hurt. grief, confusion, jealously, greed, love, etc. He told these kids it is OK to be angry, but you should not hit others in reaction.

Through words and examples, often delivered through his puppets (and his modified voice), he discussed death, divorce, bullying and bigotry. A key example is his having an African-American in a recurring role as his Officer Friendly and friend. This sounds rather innocuous now, but he did this in the late 1960s. He made a further point of having both share the same wading pool to wash their feet, a purposeful lesson that could come straight from the bible.

Among several powerful moments in the movie, three stand out. The first is his testimony in front of a Senate committee chaired by the ornery Senator John Pastore to petition the committee not to cut $20 million funding of PBS. He focused on what he tries to do and asked if he could say the words to the following song:

“What do you do with the mad that you feel? When you feel so mad you could bite. When the whole wide world seems oh so wrong, and nothing you do seems very right. What do you do? Do you punch a bag? Do you pound some clay or some dough? Do you round up friends for a game of tag or see how fast you go? It’s great to be able to stop when you’ve planned the thing that’s wrong. And be able to do something else instead ― and think this song ―

“I can stop when I want to. Can stop when I wish. Can stop, stop, stop anytime … And what a good feeling to feel like this! And know that the feeling is really mine. Know that there’s something deep inside that helps us become what we can. For a girl can be someday a lady, and a boy can be someday a man.”

A visibly moved Pastore said he would make sure the funding continued.

The other two moments are more visual. He filmed an episode with Coco the gorilla who could do sign language. This enormous beast was quite visibly moved  by Rogers. Coco seemed to feel the radical kindness that exudes from Rogers, hugging and petting the man and signing that he loved Mister Rogers.

The other visual is of Rogers inviting Jeff Erlanger, a wheel chair bound young man on to his show. Erlanger explained to the audience what had happened to make him a quadriplegic, the result of a spinal tumor. In a very poignant manner the two sang a song together that left both my wife and me a little teary eyed.

Mister Rogers came along after my formative years. I would watch an occasional episode as I channeled surfed. Yet, seeing this and another documentary about his work, left me with a very favorable impression. As a producer noted, Rogers did the opposite of what other TV shows did. He talked directly to the children with radical kindness. We adults sure could use a large dose of that.




21 thoughts on “Radical kindness

  1. Mister Rogers was and still remains a child’s best friend. My son was what I used to call a “Sesame Street Dropout”, but he loved Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Through Mister Rogers, his childhood friend and mentor, he learned valuable life lessons that have served him well, contributing to his becoming the Executive Director of a non-profit group that provides services to disabled adults. My 5 year old Grandson, Benjamin, also loves and watches Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood through the many PBS DVD’s that are available for today’s children and hopefully for the generations yet to come. This Christmas brought the 2018 “It’s A Beautiful Day Collection” that includes the bonus of the series premiere’s original black and white episode. Kindness is a concept that many in our world are sadly lacking and radical kindness is very much in need. It seems that kindness is not viewed as a strength but as a sign of weakness by today’s leaders. As Fred Rogers said : “There are three ways to ultimate success. The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind.” Thank-you for sharing this lovely post!

    • Ellen, thank you for sharing such a wonderful and fitting tribute. You have reason to be proud of your family. Mister Rogers is a marvelous teacher whose kindness is obvious. Watching him one on one or with small groups of children reveal how he connecte with his audience. Thanks agsin, Keith

      • I am known for my propensity for loquacity, but I’ll be grateful if you will indulge me for a wee bit more. Tomorrow, February 17th, is National Random Acts of Kindness Day. While at the end of every day if we can not recall having done at least a single act of kindness, we have wasted the day…it is good to have a reminder to do so, such as a particular day that promotes the practice. It is well for each of us to remember : “Kindness costs nothing and pays exponential dividends.” – Johnny Stones. Thank-you again!

      • Ellen, your words resonate, so do not worry about your pereception of being too wordy. You and Jill have both reminded me of National Kindness Day. I do my best to live up to that word. My favorite saying which so needed today is “don’t mistake kindness for weakness.” Thanks again, Keith

  2. Note to Readers: I wrote about this a few months ago, but during an interview, Mister Rogers was asked for advice when tragedies strike. His words were telling. During times of horrible tragedy, he said to focus on the helpers; the EMTs, police, firefighters, nurses, doctors, etc. They show us our humanity.

  3. Like you, Mr. Rogers came along after my childhood was ended, but I well remember watching his show with my children, and later with granddaughter Natasha. He always left me with a warm and happy feeling. I am going in search of the documentary you mention … it sounds like just the thing! Tomorrow (Sunday) is National Random Acts of Kindness Day … perhaps in memory of Mr. Rogers we could all do a random act of kindness for someone!

    • Hugh, true. Even then, Rogers did not like regular TV including the kids shows. His producer said we had cardboard sets and sock puppets, we did not insult people or raise our voice, and we talked directly to kids. And. They loved him for it. Keith

    • Janis, I hope you had a good day as well. I watched fhe full testimony agian today before I added the link. It was powerful because of his concerted kindness and passion for the kids. That is the epitome of civil discourse. Keith

  4. Note to Readers: Weekly, I forward a version of a post to about 200 folks. The reaction to this post on Mister Rogers has been very favorable. One woman said her church took the impetus to show the documentary to several of the childcare instructors at their day care. That is cool. I think people are craving kindness and applaud it when they see it.

  5. Dear Keith,

    What a wonderful tribute to the Mr. Roger’s show that taught children the value of kindness.I have not watched the documentary, but I will now. I often sing his song to myself, ‘It’s a wonderful day in the neighborhood, won’t you be my neighbor?’

    I like your saying, Kindness does not equal weakness. It shows character, decency and a willingness to look beyond appearances, the surface.

    Yes, I like that goal of doing at least one kind act towards another, per day. There is a hunger for shows that display kindness in all its forms. For example, I’m drawn to TV shows like Father Brown and Doc Martin because the characters are realistic but there’s a level of compassion on display.

    Hugs, Gronda

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