In a world as divided as it is today, humanity must rest its hope on the connections that can be made in order to find peace, happiness, and, ultimately, the unity necessary to go on. Humans have always been at odds with one another due simply to their human nature being prone to wickedness, hatred, and, most of all, pride. Pride has allowed empires to collapse in on themselves and unforgiveness to reign supreme in conflicts new and old. It is only by removing pride from a person’s life that true, strong, lasting connections and unity are able to be made. This fact has never been exemplified more superbly than with the life and perspective of the late Rev. Dr. Fred Rogers, known more commonly by his television name, Mister Rogers. This man, though possessing great fame and influence, was able to use his greatest gift of all, humility, to touch more hearts and impact more lives than could have ever been imagined.
Mister Rogers’ growing up life was about as average as could possibly be for an American in the 20th century, but it was his experiences in this average life that led him to become the humble-natured individual he is known as today. Being a son of a businessman, he lived most of his life in the middle class going to school and taking on life as any other American child would have done. Though loved by his family and friends, Rev. Dr. Fred Rogers underwent much torment and bullying during his youth due to him being overweight. In the masterfully crafted film about the true story of his impact on the coldest of hearts titled A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Mister Rogers, portrayed by Tom Hanks, states that ”When [he] was a boy, [he] was very chubby. The other kids would chase [him] and call [him] names — like ”Fat Freddy.” It made [him] very sad, and [he) would cry to [himself]. And other times, it made [him] very angry,” showing how human he was (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood). His childhood being filled with such horrible treatment as this would surely have made him want to lead a life of pride and vengeance, but he continues in this scene to state, “There is always something to do with the mad you feel,” thus illustrating the perspective of humility he chose to have (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood). Most people, regardless of their age, would feel right in acting on their impulses and meeting hate with hate. However, what makes Mister Rogers stand out is how he was able to put aside his pride and focus on his own human emotional experiences to serve as both a lesson to his audience and himself. His wife, Mrs. Joanne Rogers, in the same film explains it perfectly when she is asked about her husband being a “living saint,” as he is described. She states that “He works at it all the time. It’s a practice. He’s not a perfect person. He has a temper. He chooses how he responds to that anger,” and this completely reflects the constant desire he had to show compassion and avoid pride in order to create as much unity as possible in the world (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood). It was this key experience of his childhood that enabled him to start down the path of using humble kindness in every situation, and this is what established him as the gifted teacher the world knows him as today.
It is extremely fascinating to read and listen to how Mister Rogers’ defined his own perspective on his television show and how his perspective directly reflected on the humble character he chose to exemplify. For one thing, Mister Rogers did not accredit himself to being extremely famous, but rather, he was extremely thankful and humbled that his television programs were able to reach so large and diverse of an audience. In the documentary on his life called Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Rev. Dr. Fred Rogers is seen describing his main objective as being “to help children through the difficult modulations of life,” and that is exactly what he does (Won’t You Be My Neighbor?). However, this was not his singular perspective on his work. Tom Hanks’ portrayal of this individual shows Mister Rogers stating that “children can help re-evoke what it was like [to be a child]. And that’s why when you ‘re a parent, you have a new chance to grow,” thus outlining the second part of his ideology (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood). To Mister Rogers, the world exists in such a disunified state simply because people are not reminded of right and wrong and are not predisposed to want to focus on the needs of others first. With these statements, it is brilliantly displayed that this man believed that just as children must let go of their pride to create unity, peace, and happiness, adults must also forget their mindsets of being older and wiser and must humble themselves to never stop learning.
One of the best examples of Rev. Dr. Fred Rogers’ success in implementing humble kindness to help others is shown in the new film named A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood starring Tom Hanks as the beloved television teacher. The film follows the true but heart wrenching story of a harsh reporter for Esquire named Lloyd Vogel and how his interactions with Mister Rogers led him to go from a perspective of hatred and darkness to one of forgiveness and light. The reporter begins the movie as a workaholic who enjoys keeping himself busy destroying people with his articles in order to distract himself from the difficult realities of his family life. He has grown up with a horrible father figure that decided to cheat on his wife even while she was losing the fight against an illness. The amount of bitterness in his heart makes it seem like it would be impossible for anyone to heal him, but then, Mister Rogers enters his life. On an assignment from the magazine company, Vogel is asked to write an article about Rev. Dr. Fred Rogers and interview him on whether or not he believes he should be labeled as a hero. In the short time they have together interviewing, Lloyd soon finds that he is no longer interviewing but is slowly being interviewed. Tom Hanks’ character never pries, but he is always able to make his interviewer feel like he can be open about his life. Though reluctant, Lloyd soon realizes that the bitterness in his life stems just as much from his father as it does from himself, and as soon as he begins to humble himself to this, the Vogel family is able to rebuild. What is most fascinating about this story is how fortified Mister Rogers’ conviction is about his outlook on life. He never once goes back on his word but always is open to hearing and learning about how others perceive the world to be. His goal is only to help and never to indoctrinate, and that is what made him so successful. He makes this evident when being interviewed by stating that “[he tries] to look through the camera, into the eyes of each child watching, and speak to them, as if individually, trying to be fully present to their feelings and needs,” and it is this humble approach that has caught the attention of so many people and continues to resonate with his audiences today even though he has sadly passed (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood). His idea that “love is at the root of everything” deeply cements how he knew he could try and help everyone (Won’t You Be My Neighbor?). Regardless of the circumstances, Mister Rogers could identify that in every situation, love exists and is dying to flourish, and once humility becomes the focus, that love can solve any problem.
The troubling reality of humanity is that no matter how different life becomes, human nature will always breed divisiveness. People naturally are prone to doing what they want and are constantly motivated to act on sheer pride and desire. To many like rage-filled Lloyd Vogel, the world is “broken,” as is stated by the character (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood). However, by looking through the perspective of Rev. Dr. Fred Rogers, one can see that no one is ever “broken,” but rather, everyone is constantly in need of a gentle reminder of humility (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood). He was able to beautifully utilize this ideal to bring the unity so necessary to the peace and happiness of the world. It truly was this aspect of his kind, compassionate, and giving character that enabled him to make it a beautiful day in everyone’s neighborhood.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Directed by Marielle Heller. Performances by Tom Hanks, Chris Cooper, Susan Kelechi Watson, Maryann Plunkett, and Matthew Rhys, Sony Pictures Releasing, 2019.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?. Directed by Morgan Neville. Performances by Fred Rogers, David Newell, Joe Negri, and Yo-Yo Ma, Focus Features, 2018.